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Counting Exotics (or an additional lifer?)

September 19, 2007
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I’ve already written about my totally bitchin’ pelagic trip this past weekend , but I hadn’t mentioned the birding the next day. It was very good, but not spectacular. We saw some out of range Baird’s Sandpipers that probably got blown out our way by Humberto (that’s Humberto Gomez, a portly hispanic gentleman with enormous lung capacity we met in Buxton. What? You though I meant the hurricane?). Good birds for North Carolina and a year bird for me. We also saw a way out of range Lark Sparrow, also likely the work of Señor Gomez, a sharp little bird and the winner of the coveted “Bird of the Day”. Oh, and I may have gotten a lifer.

“But wait!”, you may be saying. “Should not this lifer hold this such envied position? After all, by definition it’s a bird you’ve never seen before!”. Fair point reader(s) if awkwardly stated, and normally that would indeed be the case, lifers are typically my default “bird of the day”. But not this time, as astute readers may notice the picture to the left, this lifer is not a terribly exciting bird. It was a Mute Swan, or as it’s known to the National Association for the Physically Handicapped, the Vocally Impaired Swan. The VI Swan is a non-native species originally from Europe that has made itself at home in our fair country despite the fact that we already have two species of swans and they’re very nice so we don’t want any thank you very much. Brought over since before the days of the Revolution as an ornamental (we should have made them take their bloody swans back with their king), it quickly became feral and is an aggressive breeder and resident in the northeast.

Back home in Missouri, Mute Swans were locally common though the provenance of the populations was unclear. The only birds in the area were those kept in housing developments and it was unknown whether or not they were able or willing to reproduce. I certainly never saw any cygnets. Thus, not countable. But these birds this past weekend, were in a wildlife refuge far from a manicured park. They were tooling around like you’d expect wild Mute Swans to be tooling around and as close as we are to the Chesapeake Bay (400 miles more or less as the swan flies), which has a good sized wintering population of Mute Swans, this might very well be part of the population that is considered established by the ABA, and thus countable. 

So, what’s the consensus? Does anyone know the status of North Carolina Mute Swans? Do I have a lifer or not?

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3 Comments
  1. SF Birder permalink
    September 19, 2007 11:53 am

    Looks like Mute Swan is indeed on the North Carolina list:

    http://www.carolinabirdclub.org/brc/

    Congratulations, of sorts 🙂

  2. September 19, 2007 12:12 pm

    I also saw that list and had provisionally counted it because of it.

    Additional research also turned up an NC Department of Natural Resources document that says that ornamental Mute Swans in the state have to be enclosed or pinioned to prevent escapes so it’s unlikely the birds I saw were domestic.

    Good enough for me. Yes! Mute Swan!

  3. John permalink
    September 19, 2007 4:18 pm

    The Chesapeake Bay mute swans are a non-migratory breeding population. I’m not sure if their numbers are augmented from migrants in winter, but I doubt it makes much difference. In any case, mute swans on the east coast are generally feral, and so countable under current standards.

    Oddly enough, despite the large Chesapeake population, mute swan was only added to DC’s bird list in 1999.

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