Controlling mute swans in Webster Township


photo from the website

The Mute Swan is considered an invasive species by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and now with a decision by the Webster Township Board, something will be done to control and manage them within the township.

By a 5 to 2 vote at its Dec. 21 meeting, the Webster Township Board approved formally requesting the assistance of the Michigan DNR to implement the DNR Wildlife Division Mute Swan Management and Control Program Policy and Procedures for Mute Swan nest and egg destruction and/or mute swan removal, for a 5-year period.

According to the invasive species section on the State of Michigan website (, “Mute Swans were introduced to North America in the mid-1800s to decorate parks and estates, and later brought to Michigan in 1919. These captive swans escaped and established a feral population. With their numbers growing quickly, this non-native invasive species is causing conflicts and damage across the state.”

The DNR lists three concerns about the Mute Swan:

  • Mute Swans Endanger Native Wildlife: One of the world’s most aggressive waterfowl species, especially while nesting and raising their young, mute swans drive out native waterfowl and other wetland wildlife with their hostile behavior. Mute swans will chase native breeding birds from their nests.

Some birds at risk include: common loons and trumpeter swans (both threatened species in Michigan), Canada geese and native ducks.

  • Mute Swans Destroy Wetland Habitat: A single mute swan can consume four to eight pounds of plants a day. They uproot and destroy these wetland plants that are a main food source for native birds and cover for native fish and invertebrates. Continuous feeding by a flock of mute swans can destroy an entire wetland ecosystem.
  • Mute Swans Threaten Humans: These large birds show little fear of people. Each year the DNR receives reports of mute swan attacks on people in boats and on shore.

The DNR states, “The trumpeter swan is native to Michigan, and is on our state’s threatened species list. It has been on the road to recovery; however, the increasing presence of the invasive mute swan is threatening the breeding success of this native bird. To ensure the protection of the trumpeter swan, the mute swan population must be drastically reduced.”

graphic from the MDNR

Webster Township Supervisor John Kingsley said there was previous discussion in November on this and there has been interest from the DNR and Base Line Lake residents in introducing the program.

Township treasurer John Scharf said he was against supporting this and as far as he knows, there’s only one resident who has been asking for this. He said the program can be done without the township board taking action, and instead, if desired, 54 landowners could have signed a petition to request the MDNR permit to kill the swans.

In looking further into it, Scharf said they were told the primary way the program manages the mute swan is to oil the eggs. However, he said it appears they haven’t done this in years and the whole time the program has been done in the local chain of lakes there have only been 132 eggs oiled (to prevent hatching) while 281 mute swans have been shot and killed.

Scharf said on November 17, 2021, Dusty Arsnoe, USDA Wildlife Disease Biologist, reported that since the spring of 2017, "they have killed 281 swans and destroyed 132 eggs. As a result of those actions, he reported “Significant progress has been made at reducing the local mute swan population to an acceptable level.”

    He said he saw no need for township action.

    The other no vote was board trustee Jeff Harms.

    Township board trustee Shelly Vrsek disagreed with Scharf and said controlling invasive species should be an important priority for the township, whether its plants or animals. Vrsek said there are significant invasive species in the township with mute swans being one. She said she is a “birder” but she was in support of this program.

    “We should be stepping up and doing the parts that we need to do to preserve the lake and preserve the land around it, and mute swans are an invasive species that are killing viable wildlife that need the environment and need the eco-structure here to survive.” 

    She said the township should do its part, even though it may be difficult, to preserve the ecosystem.

    In putting his support behind the decision, township board trustee John Westman said the MDNR has the expertise in properly handling this with wildlife management experts on staff. He said yes these swans might be pretty, but at the end of the day they are an invasive species that should be addressed.

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