HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Months after environmental officials killed a swan they determined to be aggressive, Connecticut is taking steps to better inform the public about nesting sites so people can avoid coming in contact with the birds.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will use social media to make the public aware of such locations, especially during springtime when these mute swans — named because they are less vocal than regular swans — typically defend their nests. New protocols also spell out the agency's policy for killing the birds when they're ill, lame or considered a public threat, as well as "addling" their eggs — essentially causing a fertilized egg to stop developing.
These new operating procedures, which establish criteria for determining when a mute swan poses a risk to the public, were partly prompted by the controversy surrounding the April 20 killing of a male swan in Killingly. The bird and its mate were known for years by residents who live near Five Mile Pond, in a rural part of northeastern Connecticut.
After the swan's death, residents started an online petition, supported by state Rep. Christine Rosati Randall, a Killingly Democrat. The petition demanded DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee "investigate this horrible act, release employees involved, review necessity of euthanizing," reintroduce swans to the pond and require postings where swans and other waterfowl nest.
"DEEP's actions upset many people who considered the swan a longtime resident of Five Mile Pond and who have had fond memories growing up with the swan," said Rosati Randall.
While the agency clarified its "response guidelines" for addressing mute swans — similar to those for handling bears and moose — Rick Jacobson, director of the group's wildlife division, contends the decision to euthanize the swan was sound.
He said the bird was reported to the agency by a couple kayaking on the pond as acting aggressively, coming toward them, flapping its wings and hissing. The couple also reported how the swan that day approached two younger people in a canoe, which ultimately capsized, spilling the canoeists.
Some local fishermen on shore also said the bird acting aggressively, Jacobson said. There were no reported injuries.
Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals, a national animal rights advocacy group based in Connecticut, said that's not enough reason to kill the bird.
"I don't think the swan deserves to die because you've encroached on their nest," said Feral, who said she's fought for decades against the state's efforts to designate the mute swan population as a public nuisance and actively manage the population.
"I want every feather on their bodies protected," she said.
Jacobson acknowledged the swan in Killingly was likely trying to protect its nest. However, given the coldness of the water and the potential exposure risks to the people, he said the bird posed an imminent public safety threat.
The same guidelines also required the agency's staff to addle the eggs. Mute swans, known for their white feathers and long, graceful necks, are considered by the agency to be an invasive species. According to the guidelines, it's the agency's policy to "control the invasive mute swan population to mitigate the ecological harm to native flora and fauna and to provide for public health and safety."
Jacobson said swans are very territorial, pushing out native geese, ducks and marsh birds while causing ecological damage by pulling up eel grass and other aquatic vegetation that other species rely upon.
John Grandy, a waterfowl biologist and wildlife counselor to the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said he applauds DEEP's decision to use social media, saying Connecticut is among the "most enlightened states" when it comes to handling mute swans.Grandy, who contends mute swans are not an invasive species, said he was a little surprised to learn about the Killingly incident given the state's reputation. While the decision to kill the bird was probably made in the "heat of the moment," he said there are usually non-lethal solutions to handling a mute swan issue.
"If there is a problem where something really looks like it needs to be done," he said, "they can really just move the swans."
This story has been corrected to show the biologist and counselor to the Humane Society is John Grandy, not John Granby.