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Cygnus Olor - Mute Swan | East Hampton, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Cygnus
Species: C. olor
Binomial name
Cygnus olor

The mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a species of swan and a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae. It is native to much of Europe and Asia, and (as a rare winter visitor) the far north of Africa. It is an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa. The name ‘mute’ derives from it being less vocal than other swan species. Measuring 125 to 170 cm (49 to 67 in) in length, this large swan is wholly white in plumage with an orange bill bordered with black. It is recognisable by its pronounced knob atop the bill, which is larger in males.

The mute swan was introduced to North America in the late 19th century. Recently, it has been widely viewed as an invasive species because of its rapidly increasing numbers and its adverse effects on other waterfowl and native ecosystems. For example, a study of population sizes in the lower Great Lakes from 1971 to 2000 found that mute swan numbers were increasing at an average rate of at least 10% per year, doubling the population every seven to eight years. Several studies have concluded that mute swans severely reduce densities of submerged vegetation where they occur.

In 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to “minimize environmental damages attributed to Mute Swans” by reducing their numbers in the Atlantic Flyway to pre-1986 levels, a 67% reduction at the time. According to a report published in the Federal Register of 2003 the proposal was supported by all thirteen state wildlife agencies which submitted comments, as well as by 43 bird conservation, wildlife conservation and wildlife management organisations. Ten animal rights organisations and the vast majority of comments from individuals were opposed. At this time mute swans were protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act due to a court order, but in 2005 the United States Department of the Interior officially declared them a non-native, unprotected species. Mute swans are protected in some areas of the U.S. by local laws, as for example in Connecticut.

The status of the mute swan as an introduced species in North America is disputed by the interest group “Save the Mute Swans”. They assert that mute swans are native in the region and therefore deserving of protection. They claim that mute swans had origins from Russia and cite historical sightings and fossil records. These claims have been rejected as specious by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Read more

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