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The exotic mute swan (Cygnus olor) has increased its population size in Chesapeake Bay (Maryland and Virginia) to approximately 4,500 since 1962 when five swans were released in the Bay. The Bay population of mute swans now represents 30% of the total Atlantic Flyway population (12,600) and has had a phenomenal increase of 1,200% from 1986 to 1999. Unlike the tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) that migrate to the Bay for the winter, the mute swan is a year-long resident, and, therefore, reports of conflicts with nesting native waterbirds and the consumption of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) have raised concerns among resource managers. Populations of black skimmers (Rynchops niger) and least terns (Sterna antillarum) nesting on beaches and oyster shell bars have been eliminated by molting mute swans. Although data on the reduction of SAV by nesting mute swans and their offspring during the spring and summer are limited, food habits data show that mute swans rely heavily on SAV during these months. Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima) constituted 56% and eel grass (Zostera marina) constituted 43% of the gullet food of mute swans. Other SAV and invertebrates (including bryozoans, shrimp, and amphipods) formed a much smaller amount of the food percentage (1%). Invertebrates are believed to have been selected accidently within the vegetation eaten by the swans. Corn (Zea mays) fed to swans by Bay residents during the winter probably supplement limited vegetative food resources in late winter. A program to control swan numbers by the addling of eggs and the killing of adult swans has been a contentious issue with some residents of the Bay area. A management plan is being prepared by a diverse group of citizens appointed by the Governor to advise the Maryland Department of Natural Resources on viable and optimum options to manage mute swans in the Maryland portion of Chesapeake Bay. Hopefully, the implementation of the plan will alleviate the existing conflicts to the betterment of all resources.
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The exotic mute swan (Cygnus olor) in Chesapeake Bay, USA