Is NYS Killing the Mute Swans?


At least not with the two-year moratorium imposed this year. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been looking to have the Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) declared a prohibited invasive species. The plan was to have all Mute Swans, numbering 2,200 of them killed by 2025.


Since there was a public outcry and petition to stop the action on this proposal, New York State has backed off on going ahead. Now they have revised the eradication method to destroying the nests and sterilizing the swans. They contend the swans are a “pest that pollutes water, displaces native birds, poses a hazard to aviation and shows aggression toward people.” The swans got imported here from Europe in the late 1800s to swim on private estates and decorate their landscapes.


While with a group of birders on Sunday, one of the group leaders was saying we should take baseball bats along on boating trips and help the state kill off the swans. This remark shocked me coming from a prominent birder. I was one that signed the petition to stop the kill.


I asked why this was so important to him and he explained that the swans eat a variety of plant species to consume about up to 8 pounds of vegetation daily, sometimes uprooting plants completely. Adult swans uproot more than they can eat and graze to depths other water fowl cannot reach, leaving little food for other species in shallower portions of lakes and ponds. Submerged aquatic vegetation provides breeding zones, food and shelter for fish, so that is an additional reason for their elimination.  All because they are non-native too. You have to wonder where this non-native crusade hits next?

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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64 Responses to Is NYS Killing the Mute Swans?

  1. I had not heard about this Donna. I would not advocate for killing any animal. These are tricky situations especially if the non-native species is taking from natives species which is why you will hear the extreme reactions. Here the house sparrows will take all the birdhouses if I let them. There are plenty of other spots for them so I insist that one house go to the blue birds….I try to get a bit of sharing happening here.

    • When you consider it is a small amount of swans in relationship to the whole of NYS being targeted, this seems to be not the problem the State alleges. Canada geese are a much larger problem and all for the same reasons listed. It is not the swans fault they are here. House Sparrows are in decline in other places in the world, so it seems to me elimination is the wrong way to address any wildlife issue. This killing method is getting out of hand. The swans likely are NOT affecting other wildlife to the extreme indicated. There was only one on the huge reserve that I saw.

      • I agree that we need to put some of these things in perspective. That’s why I try for balance…house sparrows like the boxes in the meadow and bluebirds in the garden…any free boxes go to the swallows if they are in time. But even the house sparrows are finding spot under the roof of the gazebo and the swallows find spots as well.

        We have a swan pond in the town over that is highly prized and protected so one pair can breed yearly….I wonder how that will go over with the state. The geese are more of a problem. I wonder who alerted the state to the problem and got them all fired up about the swans.

        • I do understand you wanting the blue birds more than the sparrows, but I let nature take care of issues like this. I feel it is not my “right” to remove one species for another. People advocate killing the sparrows and their young, and all because the sparrows are doing what nature intended. We are part of nature too and what we build, they see as desirable and part of their “nature”. They nest in these man-made cavities like the blue birds and swallows. People dislike the swallows too. “The House Sparrow prefers to nest in manmade structures such as eaves or walls of buildings, street lights, and nest boxes instead of in natural nest sites such as holes in trees.” Cornell. It is the same with the geese and golf courses. We made this habitat for them whether we choose to believe it or not. We add the water hazards on golf courses and what do we expect? Food and nesting sites for geese. After the nestlings leave the nest, the geese molt and cannot fly, so they become stuck on the golf course ponds and lakes. Easy prey for those killing them. What do we do? I have no idea, but killing them is wrong.

          • Delphyne49 says:

            This is a wonderful reply, one that I appreciate! Nature is quite capable of taking care of these issues.

  2. Debra says:

    2000 birds doesn’t sound like all that huge a number for an entire state so I wonder what exactly is the problem. And has there suddenly been a population explosion since the 1800s? If so, maybe they should look into the dynamics of that first.

    And wow. A baseball bat? That kind of imagery says more about the speaker’s character than perhaps he would be willing to admit to himself. I am all for protecting native species but I also have to say that we live in a global community: it is too late to build a wall between the old and new world — the damage has already been done and this situation of introduced species has been around for centuries now. The natural world will continue to evolve and change and sadly (or not) some creatures are just going to be in a better position to survive.

    Instead of resorting to brute force, here’s a radical solution: let’s get rid of all those wasteful suburbs & roadways and make people live closer together to allow more habitat for wild things. In my county about 99% of the land is devoted to humans and people still have the nerve to complain when deer or rabbits or coyotes or any other wild thing ‘encroach’ on their property. Who is really encroaching on whom? Apparently, people won’t be satisfied until they have all the land. I’d like to suggest that -that- is the real problem.

    • I so agree with everything you wrote. When the birder made the remark I cringed. I also did not mention I was one signing the petition to cease the program. People just think they are much more important than other animals or insects, and what will it take for people to see that is not the case in the larger scheme of things? It is so easy to sit back and READ what is being done to wildlife that is not native, and to agree in principle, “Oh the poor native creatures”, but rarely is that the case. People are the problem. Wildlife would do much better without us.

      • Delphyne49 says:

        Humans are, indeed, the problem when their outlook is that our planet is for humans only or that we have “dominion” over it and everything on it. Not only is that arrogant, but it is cruel and ignorant, as well.

    • Joe L. says:

      This “moratorium” is a PR gimmick. It is still an eradication plan, only more subtle; the new plan still includes sterilization and nest destruction. The goal is the same: total eradication and the timeline is likely unaffected by this “moratorium”. The nativists are merely applying a veneer of guile and deception to their hateful scheme. With a population of only 2,200 (after well over a century) swans hardly sound like an aggressive competitor yet the state portrays them as WMDs. I am amazed that so many people who do not trust nature or natural selection call themselves environmentalists and assume the mantle of “stewardship” over nature. None of these eradication plans ever ever ever consider the unintended consequences (the “collateral damage” ) on the local ecosystem. The painful lessons of Mao’s “four pests” campaign of the 1950s should be required reading for anyone who embarks on “eradication”.

      • Debra says:

        it is hard to believe these are the ‘experts’ making decisions because honestly the response sounds more like they are addressing symptoms rather than problems. Mind boggling.

  3. alesiablogs says:

    WTF? I can not believe it!

  4. jakesprinter says:

    Stunning shot 🙂

  5. What a messed-up situation. I hate the idea of killing masses of any type of animal. The sterilization makes a little more sense. Sad situation, though.

  6. debsgarden says:

    That is a difficult situation, but the birds have been here well over a hundred years and they haven’t taken over the world yet! There has to be a better solution than mass killing.

  7. So the animals are supposed to pay for the stupidity of the humans who brought them here??? if they were imported from elsewhere, why can they not be gathered up and returned to that area? Sad, sad situation. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    • I agree. People make arbitrary mandates. When will we learn to stay out of the affairs of animals? That goes for plants too. Too much for profit. I think sending them back is a great idea. They have already spent a lot of money in deliberation and advertisement, and will spend vast amounts on sterilizing them and hunting for nests, so pay for a plane and move them. Also, using an animal for decoration is the stupidest reason around.

  8. This is a very delicate situation for sure. I heard about it two summers ago when we visited Michigan and they have the same issue with the non-native swans there too. I don’t think they were killing them but they are problematic for other native plant and animal species. Sterilization sounds like a good compromise. You’ll have too keep us posted on this issue.

    • It becomes a problem for more and more species when they get where “they don’t belong”. I hope the swans are not killed. It is a senseless death being in a place, living your life, and some species comes along, not to eat you, but just kill you because they “think” some duck may not get dinner. I know I am sarcastic on this matter, but my gosh, the way humanity treats other animals it is like playing GOD.

  9. I’m a little surprised by your stand on this issue. Yes, the swans are beautiful. But as you have described the situation, they are an invasive species that poses a threat to native animals and plants. If you want to support the swans, you are taking a stand against native species. If the animals (and plants) can’t coexist, one side will lose. Basing my opinion solely on what you have written, I have to support the native species. (How you bring down the number of animals is another question.)

    • I am not describing so much as reporting the situation. I have been following it for a long time in correspondence. I in NO WAY take a stand against native creatures. The swans at that small number can not possibly be doing the damage the State contends. Think about it. I think all that is alleged or even purported, is overblown. Who benefits from this? I would bet it is people not the animals, fish and birds.

    • Joe L. says:

      Connie, do you really buy into the official line that 2,200 Swans are having an adverse impact on the wetlands far great than the tens of millions of geese, ducks, and other waterfowl? This statement sits out their as just another unsupported anecdotal scare tactic to back up the dogma that “native” species must be protected from “aliens” and “invasives”. The whole philosophy is based on the premise that nature is static; that, before Europeans came to the Americas, the composition and diversity off the flora and fauna in each ecosystem were constants. To buy into “Nativism” and “Restoration” one must first believe that species decline within an existing ecosystems or spread into a new ecosystems only through unnatural actions. This belief denies the evolutionary processes inherent in nature and ascribes to man all of the responsibility for whatever is perceived to be wrong (the key word here is “perceived”) and leads to the logical fallacy that humans must therefore take over and manage (“stewardship”) all of the world’s ecosystems because we are inherently omniscient and omnipotent. If this is not a “God Complex”, what is?

  10. Thank you for bringing this up, Donna. I really don’t understand it and find it infuriating!

    • It really makes some of our government agencies look like they don’t really know what they are doing. Sorry Fish and Wildlife, I know you follow this blog, but at least it is not your agency behind this. If the problem is too many creatures and not enough habitat for them…….make MORE HABITAT. When I was at this preserve I saw very few birds, ducks geese and only ONE swan. I have been to a lot of preserves lately and this is the first Mute Swan I saw. Am I missing something they see? I know migration is on and many birds have left our area recently, but I was out birding at the start of migration. Why the fuss?

  11. A difficult topic that doesn’t deserve a knee jerk reaction but requires a lot of thought and research, but I can certainly say that I wouldn’t be picking up a baseball bat.

    • I agree it is difficult, mainly because on one hand you have the group that wants all non-natives gone, and on the other the general populous of NYS. I wonder what children would think about all this?

  12. debibradford says:

    After reading your post and all the comments I’m both stunned and furious. I’m hugely into conservation and preservation but you are so right that these creatures, non-native species both flora and fauna, aren’t to be vilified. It’s not their fault that they are here but the fault of man. I forget who said it but I agree 100% that MAN needs to be contained in villages and cities and more habitat saved for the creatures. There is so much arrogance – the world would be so much better without humans. Take a baseball bat to swans? The very idea. Grrrr…..

    • As an architect and having experience in urban planning, I agree. We did sustainable community studies and proposals, but getting people to leave suburbs is a very tough sell. Most people only care about their own comfort and convenience for their families. How do you change such an ingrained attitude?

      • debibradford says:

        I don’t see how, frankly. People have their “freedoms” and don’t dare suggest they cannot do as they please. Therefore, until the elimination of nature’s creatures, the collapse of natural resources, the chaos of environmental changes affects the lives of mankind in earnest such changes will only be ideas to be pooh-poohed. Oooh, that sounded very negative! Usually, I’m an optimist but lately I’ve begun to grow disillusioned. How can we save the rainforest AND the bison AND the wolves AND the orangutans and now the swans? Oh, and let’s not forget the honeybees. I guess one thing at a time…one thing at a time. Steady as she goes……

        • Sing it loud!!! I am at the same point. People just don’t get it. With bees in general in decline, maybe food prices will be the tipping point. Even then I doubt it. People will demand science fixes it and when that happens the situation only gets worse and far too complicated. Too many creatures worldwide are being eliminated for one reason or another and the common thread is always habitat destruction and us.

          • debibradford says:

            Shaking my head. Yes to all you said. The Politics of Man are screwing our planet. Man, I need to get out into the sunshine and shake this off! You, too! Go make it a good day!

      • Debra says:

        Suburbs were designed and sold to people in the first place. A tremendous amount of government subsidies and p.r. effort went into selling the idea of isolating yourself from your neighbor. Luckily, there is a situation right now where wealthy people are fleeing the burbs and heading back into the city. Of course they are displacing and gentrifying the inner cities. BUT the good news is that there is a shift happening where denser urban life is being seen as positive again. And that is a really positive and necessary direction for us to be taking right now.

        • This subject was my grad school thesis. I agree there is gentrification occurring in bigger, more “exciting” cities, but that is not the case for smaller cities like here. Some have 70% of the people on some form of government assistance, not paying taxes and cities cannot fiscally maintain services without those taxpayers or businesses. It is a big dilemma for urban planners. Cities want those that can support it, so what gets done? Cities that go into disrepair are not enticing to businesses or wealthier people buying homes.

          Some of the urban density increase is from people who lost homes in the housing market collapse too, plus those that lost jobs. Also an aging population without retirement savings.

          A lot of suburban homes were only built with a twenty-five year life span also. Same with strip malls. Can you see a problem with this? It is a very complicated subject. Yes, you are correct that much PR went into promoting the suburban way of life, but the initiating factor was the advent of the car. It made it possible to expand and move. It also coincided with soldiers return from war among a few other events happening at the same time.

          • Debra says:

            Well I sure hope that the return to cities will prove to be a trend that catches on elsewhere. Since the suburbs were a massive social engineering project one can hope that we can create a new trend with a similar effort. I would love to read your thesis if it is online.
            Most people (at least I was) are unaware that the construction of suburbs began as a massive and literal conspiracy involving General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone. People understandably laugh when the word conspiracy is used but in this case it was the real thing. It even went to court and these guys were fined. But just look at the legacy of what they did to pad their own pockets. Mind blowing.

  13. Pat says:

    Things never seem to turn out right when humans try to influence nature.

  14. Julie says:

    This is so very sad, I am in the UK and Mute Swans, their eggs and nests are protected here, Bewicks and Whoopers come in for the winter only. I note your last comment regarding non native and have read about this on other blog sites regarding plants. Can you tell me how this originated?

    • Oh, you mean politically correct planting? I am guessing it started getting popular with Doug Tallamy and Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. I have no issue with his ideas and premises, all good generally. One must allow for true natural processes, where plant populations move by air or bird for instance and change drastically over time if a true purist. Being a gardener does not allow one to be a purist. Plant anything and you change what would have developed. Plants can migrate of their own accord, all without help from us – and how many of them would we allow in our gardens?

      Plants considered invasive weeds based on their ecological mission and functional strategy, have a purpose in nature – often very short term. Natural ecosystems that have been severely disturbed, where our disturbance has drastically changed the landscape on the other hand, is repaired naturally with what happens in succession habitats. Nature fixes the problem of abandoned landscapes and bare soil. And to show the pure wonder of nature, these “weeds” grow where most of our native plants will not, on heavily compacted soils and soils with high chemical degradation. I write often on this subject because we ourselves are the “weeds”, not the plants that just happen to appear in nature.

      Here are some of my posts on the subject.

      Too many with fanatical enthusiasm have clung to this idea viewing the eradication of invasive plants (and animals like in this post) as a crusade of sorts. They (whoever these individuals actually are) “decide” that native species should be of a local genetic lineage found only on the immediate site and nowhere else. Read to see the absurdity of this thinking, where one seed or plant native is “different” than one found say 100 miles away, and of the exact same plant – like moved by a bird. I have strong feelings on this subject and no “native only” person will ever change my mind. I plant native plants, but I also understand what many consider native by horticultural adaption of a true native making a cultivar and are not one in the same in my opinion.

      • Julie says:

        Thank you. I am taking time to understand this, we a comparatively small island, the issue of native plants is more straightforward here. It either is or it isn’t, there are plants only thriving in some areas and that is generally accepted to be how it is, rather than only being allowed in specific areas. I have read blogs from the USA where your native wildflowers are cultivated here as border plants, such as Echinacea. I think with regard to british wildflowers that any import of cheap seed from say China that has been treated with fungicide is not acceptable, as the chemical may then be transferred and ingested by pollinators. I am not aware of any council here being so restrictive as you mention in your post and it was only last year that a rising awareness of Bee decline encouraged councils to stop mowing roadside verges. From December 2013 we are now in a period of an experimental two year ban on pesticides again as a result of public reaction to Bee decline. There is currently a “say no to the mow” campaign in private gardens in an attempt to encourage us to appreciate and grow wildflowers more, I read your link you sent on meadows in front gardens and believe that only if the plants provided are not treated with chemicals and they provide an ecological habitat then from a design point of view that cultivated plants work very well. For me it is the habitat and use of chemicals on plants which may then be ingested, rather than the species. In my own garden I enjoy a wide range of pollinators and have few wildflowers, but am fortunate to back on to a field with wildflowers and where incidentally there is rampant Balsam – an imported thug, which we are trying to eradicate. I felt also when I read your report of the Mute Swans very protective, I hope that a way forward is found that is humane and considerate. We have a great deal of Canadian geese here that were “managed” by oiling the eggs in some areas, but there is protest on both sides. I understand there are now 63,000 Geese here now. I enjoy your thought provoking posts and am grateful for the time you take to bring awareness.

  15. swo8 says:

    We have a few swans here on the Credit River. They are lovely to see and we know enough not to interfere with them. It would be a shame to overrun by them but, love them just the same.

    • Canada Geese are too abundant here and I believe the State will be doing something to control their population soon as well. I like the swans like I like the geese, but sadly, they create problems that make life difficult for others according to the State.

      • swo8 says:

        We have a lot of geese too, and they are a real nuisance. I wonder what they taste like. There has been talk about getting us to eat insects. Well why not a roast goose? Sounds better than ants?

  16. Laurin Lindsey says:

    We humans are an extremely invasive species! Should we remove all those that are non-native to the USA : ) Perhaps if we had not ruined so many habitats for the native birds, with our cities and towns, this issue would not have come up. Where oh where to draw the line!

    • That is the problem. We cannot draw a line. It is a moral issue when it concerns people. I find it almost funny when talking about non-native species and people are never mentioned. As a European import, many of us would be culled.

  17. acuriousgal says:

    What a terrible comment by that birder. What to do about these species? I realize something needs to be done.

    • Does it? That is really my point. With only 2,200 of them, they could not be causing as much damage as they are assumed to be causing. I did not see hungry ducks in the same pond as the one swan. Both species were feeding. I think it has more to do with being non-native. Canada Geese are hunted (over 2 million a year) but that does not seem to affect their numbers. Native too.

  18. My Heartsong says:

    I was a quite shocked to read this-what next? Canada geese, starlings,woodpeckers…

  19. I wonder if some day they will choose to decimate say an age group, 20-28 so we can slow the population of mankind 😦

    • Like “Logan’s Run”, only they had a maximum age. I think history has shown it is possible to target groups of people or whole countries. One day, with over 7 billion now, if the planet still supports us, it is likely that over population has us killing off each other.

      • So sad indeed I am glad NH brought back the Wild Turkey but added a small time in which to hunt for your dinner I would miss my wild landscape 😦

  20. giselzitrone says:

    Wunderschöne Bilder lieber Gruß und einen schönen Tag grüße lieb Gislinde

  21. milliontrees says:

    Thank you for bringing this issue to your readers and for your deep respect for nature. That’s good news that the swans of New York will get a reprieve. Public opinion is turning against the nativism that is behind projects such as this. (Did you see this op-ed in the Sunday NY Times? Perhaps the promoters of this project will abandon it before the end of this reprieve. We can only hope. (And sign petitions, of course.)

    • Thank you for this link. James Barilla said what I think and have been writing about in the way only a Times journalist or author like himself could. Far better than any article on the subject I have read. He is fair with foresight that others who promote planting their way out of climate change and species extinction ever could. Oddly, my next post has a bit of this when I talk about wildlife preserves and make comparisons of management to home gardens. The urgency is now and people are only just starting to see the errors of their ways in land management and development. Errors made in wildlife preserve creation too.

      I am so glad others are understanding that if non-natives are supporting wildlife, leave them the blankety blank alone. It is far worse for erosion and a whole host of other land and soil issues. He brings up urban gardens and the wildlife corridors that are needed or else they become isolated “pseudo wildlife habitats” in a “sea of wildlife desert” (my words in italics, not his). Communities need to take action, not just individuals. Keep what works (non-natives {those not invasive} and all) is the key and make that extend beyond each individual property for the sake of the greater ecosystem. But hey, this “native only” trend is a hard nut to crack. When they see their pet native plants (many times cultivars of true natives) not surviving the soil/climate and “weeds”, nature’s soil rescuer, infiltrating, maybe it will sink in.

      He brought up coneflower in his piece, but did not mention the virus decimating stands of the plant as a reason to rethink it, which people should if in their area. I agree with him. I have coneflower in my garden and the bees pass right by to forage the goldenrod. Yes goldenrod is aggressive (invasive from my perspective) and native. Makes one wonder each time they pass a field of wildflowers and see what actually is growing. What is growing is what is being USED. Unfortunately, in the case of milkweed, the droughts have depleted it in meadows and swamps, but it will be back I am guessing, like all good weeds do, they wait as dormant seeds for appropriate conditions.

  22. Oh my gosh what that guide said is just horrific. I could never justify destroying such a gorgeous creature as the swan. There should be other ways to deal with the problem more humane than that.

    • I wish the State would be less rigid with these creatures. It is not their fault and they have no understanding why they are being targeted. Imagine losing your own children like when the State takes or oils the eggs,

  23. A.M.B. says:

    Wow, I had no idea that any of this was going on. I do think invasive species can be a significant problem, but killing the birds sounds so very harsh. Yikes!

    • With climate change happening, “invasive species” may become more prevalent. Plants, insects, birds and animals are appearing in places they have not been before or have been less frequently.

  24. It does seem a shame to kill off these lovely swans. On the other hand, I don’t really know much about their environmental impact. I do think we have to be careful about making decisions about wildlife based on how appealing they are. Some of the reaction to necessary attempts to control deer populations have been based simply on the fact that the deer are cute.

    • That is my point in the post, I cannot imagine such a great impact as the State contends. It seems to me just an aggressive push by the groups wanting only native species. This is conjecture, but I bet it has some merit.

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