Mute Swans: Why the Majestic Birds are a Menace in Michigan

Tracy Stengel
Photo byRobert Woeger/Unsplash

It’s hard to imagine the regal, graceful Mute Swan being a problem in Michigan. It is considered a non-native invasive species that is a threat to wetlands, waterfowl, and other wildlife.

The Mute Swan is native to Europe and was introduced to Michigan in 1919 to add beauty to parks and estates. The captive swans eventually escaped and quickly created a feral population. By the 1960s, the DNR began taking measures to control their population.

Mute Swans are among the most aggressive waterfowl species in the world, particularly when nesting and raising their young. Their bullying behavior drives out native waterfowl like the Trumpeter Swan and other breeding birds by chasing them from their nests. The Michigan-native Trumpeter Swan is on the Threatened Species list.

One adult Mute Swan eats 4 to 8 pounds of plants per day. The main staple of their diet is wetland plants. While feeding, they uproot the plants and destroy them. If a flock of mute swans continuously feed in one area they can destroy an entire wetland ecosystem. They also feed on agricultural crops.

While Mute Swans and the Trumpeter Swan look alike, there are two easy ways to tell them apart. The Mute Swan has an orange bill and a neck curved like the letter ‘S.’ The Trumpeter Swan has a black bill and a neck curved like the letter ‘C.’

Mute Swans do not migrate. They are monogamous and often use the same nest every year, renovating it as necessary. Both male and female build and keep up the nest and also incubate the eggs. The female usually lays 4 to 8 eggs.

Contrary to their name, Mute Swans are not silent. They emit a muffled bugling call. They make explosive snorting and hissing noises when agitated. Females communicate to their cygnets with a yapping noise that sounds like a puppy.

Hunting Mute Swans is illegal in Michigan, but the DNR issues permits to remove Mute Swans and/or their nests and eggs. The National Audubon Society and Ducks Unlimited supports the Michigan DNR’s effort to decrease the numbers of Mute Swans.

Every year, the Michigan DNR gets reports of swans attacking humans in watercrafts and on land. They have little fear of humans. If a swan hisses at you — heed its warning. Being on the business end of powerful wings and a sharp, hooked beak may be painful and even deadly. The most dangerous part of a swan is their long tail feathers which they use to kill their prey and fend off predators.

To avoid an attack, view them from a distance. Don’t allow children near them. Keep your dog on a leash. Never feed a swan — that won’t make you friends, it will make you a target.

If a swan behaves aggressively, back away slowly and make yourself look larger by waving your arms. Grab a stick or pole if there’s one handy. Don’t turn your back on a swan. It can be on you in seconds.

Have you encountered Mute Swans in your area? I’d love to read about your experience in the comments!

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Tracy explores the world with a positive eye, an open heart, and a sprinkling of humor. Without laughter, she would be lost.

Onsted, MI

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