Mute Swan
Image by Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

An adult mute swan in the afternoon sun.

Mute Swan

Mute Swans are a non-migratory waterfowl native to Europe and parts of Asia that was first introduced in the United States in the 1870s as a decorative showpiece in zoos and private residents and collections for their striking appearance. In 1916, some swans escaped captivity in New Jersey and in 1919 some escaped from New York.

These free-ranging swans then successfully created a wild breeding population that expanding into Rhode Island by the 1920s and now have spread across the “Atlantic Flyway” from Southern Ontario, Canada to North Carolina, United States. Mute Swans are an aggressive species that threatens native waterfowl and other species that rely on emergent and submerged vegetation habitat.

An adult mute swan has an all-white body with a long, curved neck, an orange bill and a black face with a black, fleshy knob of the forehead above the nostrils. Juvenile mute swans have dirty gray- white bodies with gray-pink legs and a tan to pinkish bill.

Mute swans threaten aquatic plant communities and other species that rely on these aquatic communities to survive. This species can reach submerged vegetation up to 4 ft. below the surface. Where mute swans are present, in either pairs or flocks, the ecosystem is under great pressure since this species doesn’t migrate and may be present in the community year-round which prevents future recovery of the ecosystem.

Mute swans are also extremely territorial and will aggressively chase off or kill other waterfowl that enter their territory. They tend to be most aggressive during the nesting and brood-rearing stages in the spring and into the late summer.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) conduct surveys and research to gain insight into the New York population of mute swans through studies on nest distributions, clutch sizes, hatching and survival rates and number of active breeding birds. Understanding the behavior of this population will help develop efficient management strategies in the future. Mute swans are protected by the New York State Environmental Conservation Law and it is unlawful to handle or harm the swans, their nests or any eggs without DEC authorization.

If a collared mute swan is found, report it to the DEC to help with their tracking efforts. If you have a problem with controlling mute swans in the area, contact the DEC for more information.

Resources

Mute Swan – LIISMA Species Profile, This webpage from the Long Island Invasive Species Management Area (LIISMA) highlights the origins and introduction, habitat, impacts and prevention and control methods in practice to approach the mute swan population.

DEC – Mute Swan, This webpage from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation highlights the state status and management plan for this prohibited invasive species. This page also provides information on the description, life history, distribution and management and further research needed to minimize impacts caused by this species.

Mute Swan Species Profile, This webpage from the New York Invasive Species Information website details science-based information about this invasive species including information about its origins, habitat, spread and impact, prevention and control methods and its distribution throughout New York State.

Mute Swan Management Plan, This report and management plan published in January of 2019 by the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) details and outlines the state’s strategies to contain and minimize the impacts of free-ranging mute swans with an overall goal to prevent population growth and minimize impacts of this invasive species throughout New York.

Swans: Natives and Invasives – NY State Parks Blog, This article published in 2020 by New York State Parks and Historical Sites to their website highlights the different species of swans that New Yorkers may interact with and identifies their impacts to the New York ecosystem.

Contact

Christina McLaughlin
Natural Resources Educator
cmm482@cornell.edu
516-565-5265 Ext. 15

Last updated April 13, 2022