The Truth Behind the Killing of Mute Swans

By Sheila Bolin

Photo by Shirley Bolin. Mute swan with cygnet on back.

Photo by Sue Miller – reprinted with permission of Ms. Miller

Photo by Shirley Bolin of Sheila Bolin and relaxed friend

Killing mute swans is one of the most despicable hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American taxpayer.  Mute swans are killed because wildlife budgets are decreasing. No hunters, no permits, no money, so an idea was born.  Remove mute swans from their habitats and replace them with the larger trumpeter swans so more expensive trophy waterfowl hunting permits can be sold and hunters attracted.

Frequently cited pretexts for killing mute swans by agencies include:

1. They eat too much aquatic vegetation
2. They are non-native
3. They can carry avian flu
4. They are aggressive/invasive
5. They produce too much nitrogen
6. They displace other waterfowl

These sham pretexts have been widely disputed by some of the world’s foremost swan and wetland biologists presenting papers at the 2014 International Swan Symposium.

Sham Pretext: They eat too much aquatic vegetation.  Wildlife officials admitted to harvesting trumpeter swan eggs from Alaska, incubating them at the Milwaukee Zoo and then releasing the captive-reared birds into habitats in which they’d never existed. Mute swans eat approximately 8 lbs of aquatic vegetation daily, while the trumpeter swan cygnets alone, eat approximately 20 lbs  (Larry Gillette, Trumpeter Society).  How can you release a larger bird that is known to eat more aquatic vegetation and still use this feeding excuse to kill a smaller species?

Sham Pretext: Non-native. Barb Avers, Michigan DNR, was asked at the Symposium,  “Why kill one species (mutes) to introduce a larger swan species (trumpeter).”   Avers stated that they wanted a native species.  Really?  Then why is there so much concern about the mute swans being non-native, when states such as Michigan, Maryland, New York, Indiana, etc., kill the mute swans, yet raise non-native Asian pheasants to be released into the habitat for hunting purposes?  Asian pheasants are parasitic non-native species that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, specifically those of mallard ducks and the endangered prairie chicken (native species).

Sham Pretext: Mute swans carry avian flu.  Research shows that the major vectors of avian flu are mallard ducks, poultry, and bar-headed geese (H. Schekkerman & R. Slaterus, 2007).  Poultry raised close to people are the most culpable.  Why are these species not being killed for monitoring purposes?  Remember Asian pheasants are farm raised in poultry settings for release into the environment for hunting purposes.  Some research shows that even though the pheasants are treated for parasites, they can introduce these parasites into the natural environment and pick-up diseases from wild species (Villanua, D. et al, 2006). Pheasants are hunted and eaten by humans.  Why is this practice promoted by state wildlife officials if there is concern that humans can contract avian flu or other zoonotic diseases?

Sham Pretext: Aggressive/Invasive.  Mute swans are no more aggressive or invasive than any other wildlife species (Perrins, C., 2014; Nolet, B., 2014).  Mute swans are not invasive, rather they are a sentinel species that alerts scientists to problems in the habitat (Schummer et al, 2011; Nilsson, L, 2014; Bolin et al, 2014).

Sham Pretext: Cause high nitrogen levels.  Wildlife specialists maintained that mute swans caused high nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake Bay which led to the killing of the swans in Maryland.  This was deemed “junk science” by a Federal Appeals Court, yet it is still being used to justify the killing of the species throughout the U.S.

At the Symposium, Larry Hindman of the Maryland DNR admitted that NO NEPA or other such study was ever conducted prior to the destruction of 1,683 nests, 9,403 eggs and the killing of all the mute swans except for two mating pair. Currently, the nitrogen levels in the Bay are still high. No longer can the mute swans be blamed. They were massacred for no scientific reason! As Mr. Hindman stated about the killing, “We did it under the radar, most people did not know how, when or what we were doing until it was over, we went in, did what we had to do and got out. It was never announced and never appeared on the 6:00 news.”
This non-scientific based killing continues at the expense of an entire swan species and the American taxpayer!

To speak up for our mute friends, please contact the Regal Swan Foundation at:

Sheila Bolin is the CEO and co/founder of The Regal Swan® Foundation, Inc., based in Orlando, Florida. Bolin was named one of the top 39 conservationists in the world by the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for her work with the world’s species of swans. Bolin was also nominated for the 2014 Indianapolis Prize.

Bolin spoke at the International Swan Symposium  held in Easton, Maryland, February 3­ -6, 2014. This Symposium hosted some of the world’s leading swan experts.

The Regal Swan Foundation was the 2013 recipient of the International John Muir Non-Profit Conservation Award.

In 2010, Bolin was nominated as “Scientist of The Month,” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN, based in Gland, Switzerland, for her swan research work. Bolin also serves as a member of the Swan Specialists Group.

Since 2005, Bolin has served as Ask the Specialist for the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada website ( where she has fielded questions from swan owners, veterinarians, swan keepers and other swan specialists regarding swan behavior, habitats and general maintenance issues.


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