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Swan song for mute waterfowl

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Mute swans on the on West Reservoir in Portage Lakes in 2012. Residents say they can find only three of the large birds alive after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources euthanized nine adult birds earlier this summer under a statewide Mute Swan Action Plan to control the non-native swan's population. (Leonard Klein)

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources action plan to control mute swan populations at Portage Lakes and the rest of Ohio is upsetting some local residents who have watched the cygnets grow from tiny newborns into adulthood.

Earlier this summer, nine of the birds, some that hatched last year, were shot using subsonic ammunition to muffle the sound.

“There are a lot of people who love these swans. I understand the necessity of management control, but did they have to kill all of them?” asked Allegonda Grob, a West Reservoir resident who originally contacted me.

Lately, residents have spotted only three swans after ODNR killed nine of the birds that the state has deemed a nuisance.

It’s difficult not to become attached when you watch a male swan defend its nesting site from Canada geese so its mate can lay her eggs safely, said Terry McLeod, Grobb’s neighbor.

“I thought there were six babies last year, but then I counted only five and thought I made a mistake. Then I saw this little head peak out from its mother’s back. This [program] just makes all of us heartsick,” McLeod said.

West Reservoir residents say they have complained about the practice for several years since the swans lost protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The birds, which were imported from Europe in the late 1800s, are subject to population control because they are considered invasive and are not native to the United States.

But it seems worse this year because the adult swans killed were once the babies he fed at his dock, said Leonard Klein.

“My children, grandchildren and friends have all giggled and laughed when the swans have allowed us to feed them. It is probably not good for their diet, but it sure beats a shotgun blast to the head,” said the 74-year-old Klein.

The birds are considered a nuisance in just about every state east of the Mississippi, said Scott Peters of the ODNR’s Division of Wildlife.

Although ODNR follows euthanasia guidelines set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Peters said he understands and can appreciate the residents’ attachment to the birds.

“My job as a biologist is to look out for the best of most species and unfortunately at times, it means you have to lethally manage one species to benefit the ecosystem and other species,” Peters said.

Eggs in two nesting sites, which typically contain five to seven eggs, were addled in the spring to prevent hatching, he said.

Addling eggs, putting a hole in the shell, is the preferred method of controlling the swan population but it won’t control it alone, he said.

The mute swan, a striking snow-white bird with an orange and black beak can grow to have a 94-inch wingspan and weigh more than 25 pounds. As one of the largest species of waterfowl they are considered one of the world’s most aggressive species of swans, especially while protecting their nests from boaters, water and jet skiers and an admiring public that gets too close, said Peters.

Ohio isn’t alone in its attempt to control the populations, which can increase by 10 percent each year.

In Michigan, the goal is to reduce the statewide mute swan population growth to zero by 2016.

“It’s turned into a nationwide [issue]. It’s just a matter of where the populations have established and have been left unchecked. These birds are highly adaptable. They can survive literally anywhere, at least in the continental United States,” said Peters.

Aside from their aggressiveness, the birds are considered a nuisance because they can overgraze an area, eating up to 8 pounds of submerged vegetation per day, depriving native waterfowl of food.

But the urbanization of the Portage Lakes area makes them tremendously problematic for the state park, said Peters.

In the majority of cases, people and swans don’t mix well, he said, even in the 2 percent of the state controlled by ODNR. The department receives about six complaints about the birds each year, he said.

As many as 39 adult birds have been destroyed in the past four or five years, Peters said.

“It’s been diminishing every year. There are less and less of them,” he said.

For the residents who have a connection to the swans, the real menace on West Reservoir are the double-crested cormorants and the Canada geese that are protected by law, said West Reservoir resident Sonny Herring.

“If I had a choice between the swans and the Canadian [sic] geese, I would choose the swans,” he said.

Other animals in the news:

Senior Safari at the Akron Zoo — Adults 62 and older will be admitted from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday for $3 to the zoo at 500 Edgewood Ave. Senior caregivers will be admitted for $5. More than 30 informational booths will be set up offering information on senior services. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Keyed-Up Quartet will perform and bingo games will be held in the zoo’s picnic area. For more information, call 330-375-2550.

Senior Safari and Teddy Bear Day at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo — Guests over 55 will be admitted to the zoo and Rain Forest for free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Flu shots, blood pressure checks and blood glucose screenings will be available. Kids ages 2-11 will receive free admission from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 7 when they bring a stuffed animal of any species and are accompanied by a paying adult. For more information, call 216-661-6500.

Golden retrievers picnic — Golden Retrievers in Need annual reunion picnic will be held at noon Sept. 7 at Memorial Park in Wadsworth. Guests are asked to bring a covered dish to share. Everything else will be provided.

Cleveland Pet Expo — More than 100 local exhibitors, an appearance by Shorty Rossi, star of Animal Planet’s Pitt Boss, a “mega adoption event” and more will be featured from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Cleveland Convention Center, 300 Lakeside Ave. Admission to the event is free. For more information, including a complete schedule of events and directions, visit www.amazingpetexpocleveland.com. or call 800-977-3609.

Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.


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