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Illinois hunting and fishing

Muted cries about invasive swans

June 27, 2010 at 03:21 AM

Asian carp are costing us millions.

Garlic mustard is smothering plants in the forest understory.

The ash borer is eating its way through our timber.

The toll of non-native species on Illinois is staggering.

So far, though, the state’s most elegant invader does not appear to be posing enough of a problem to merit hunting or other lethal management. While mute swans have been spreading through the Illinois River Valley for the past 20 years, a recent study shows relatively minor impacts from their presence.

“If the population gets high enough, they have the potential to degrade natural habitats, which is detrimental for many native species,” said Adam Phillips, who studied mute swans in 2008-09 as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University. “I just don’t think in Illinois we’re at high enough population levels to be detecting direct negative effects.”

Phillips estimated the Illinois River mute swan population was at 150 heading into this nesting season. Most of those birds are at Spring Lake and Banner Marsh and have been since at least 1990 according to Spring Lake site manager Stan Weimer.

Where the swans came from is uncertain. But they have become an accepted part of the landscape at Spring Lake and Banner.

“People like to see the babies in the spring. Then later they’ll call and ask if the swans are on our end of the lake,” said Larry Karnes, who runs Larry’s Restaurant & Family Bar on south Spring Lake. “People come from Pekin and Peoria and other places. A lot of them are not fishermen or hunters. They just like to see the swans.”

In the spring of 2008 and 2009, one-third of the swans people saw were wearing neck collars, placed there by Phillips.

Collars helped answer his first research question: Are mute swans having negative impacts on native water birds through their aggression?

That’s a common anecdotal claim by observers who have seen swans chase geese and other birds during nesting season. To respond to those concerns, the state funded Phillips research.

At first Phillips expected he would struggle to get neck collars on these large birds, which can weigh up to 25 pounds. But with the help of a net gun he captured and banded 46 swans with relative ease.

“To my surprise, once you catch a mute swan in a net or have it in hand, they just kind of relax and don’t do anything,” saidPhillips, who is pictured below with a swan. “One juvenile male gave me a few wing slaps. Other than that they were very docile.”

Illinois hunting and fishing

They’re not bullies in the marsh, either. The highest rates of aggression Phillips recorded was 2.3 interactions per bird, per hour leading up to nesting season. Phillips said that’s below the 3-4 interactions per hour for many other waterfowl. 

“At least in Illinois, mute swans aren’t any more aggressive than any other species of water birds,” Phillips said. “Probably why they got this reputation is because their interactions are very noticeable and they are large, white birds.”

The other question was whether mute swans were negatively impacting aquatic vegetation. Phillips found the birds did not have much impact on vegetation above the water. But he did note, “less overall bio-mass of roots in areas where swans feed freely.”

Down the road if swan populations keep growing, Phillips said the birds could start to have some impact on wetland quality. “Until then, we can continue to monitor and if we do have negative impacts we have some baseline data,” he said.

Another possible cause for future mute swan management could be arrival of trumpeter swans, which are slowly repopulating Midwest marshes. Because their nesting and feeding habits are so similar, mute swans would be in direct competition with native trumpeters.

Thus far, no trumpeters have tried nesting in the Illinois River Valley.
So for the time being mute swans look to be one invasive species we can enjoy or at least abide.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

close the shipping canal that will stop em, yep. id rather have the asian carp then these tick carrying disease factorys flying all over

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/27 at 02:39 PM

Since they are a invasive species is it illegal to shoot them.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/28 at 05:45 PM

Man, I’d be pissed if i had to live with one of those tags around my long ass neck.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/02 at 04:06 AM

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