In Defense of the Swan

Misunderstood yet again, New York's swan population faces an an uncertain future. Image depicting Black Swan.

Misunderstood yet again, New York’s swan population faces an an uncertain future. Image depicting Black Swan.

Swans have long been viewed as beautiful, mythical, and romantic creatures, as evidenced in literature and the arts. However, the swans’ ethereal nature may not be enough to overcome a host of environmental agencies calling for their removal. Hugh Raffles, a professor of anthropology at The New School for Social Research, “Speak[s] Up for the Mute Swan in the New York Times this week, arguing against the Department of Environmental Conservation’s proposal to kill the entire New York State population.

As explained in the editorial, the proposal to kill 2,200 birds follows a 2004 congressional decision to withdraw protection for the swan from the Migratory Bird Act. As Raffles explains of the verdict, “Wildlife managers see the mute swan as an invasive species, whose year-round residence, wanton appetite for subaquatic vegetation and aggressive territoriality threaten unsuspecting humans, native wildfowl such as the black tern, and dwindling wetland habitat.” 

However, advocates for the birds say that they are defensive—not aggressive—and consume a mere half of 1 percent of New York’s 4000,000 waterfowl—hardly a significant impact. Likewise, evidence that the mute swan displaces New York’s native bird population is inconclusive at best, given that Europeans first introduced the swan to the area nearly 150 years ago, says Raffles.

Read Hugh Raffles’ defense of the mute swan here.