Southern Brooklyn

Local Pols Introduce Legislation To Protect Swans

Photo by Brian Hoo

Queens State Senator Tony Avella has introduced a bill that would establish a two-year moratorium on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to eliminate 2,200 mute swans – the same scenic species that populates Sheepshead Bay’s marina. Local Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz announced today that he will follow suit with an Assembly version, having previously spoken out on the issue.

The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate’s environmental conservation committee.

The news was announced last week in a press release by Friends of Animals, an animal protection organization. From that release:

“I was horrified to learn that our state wildlife agency would make such an extreme, unfounded proposal, and do not believe that the DEC has provided evidence to justify the elimination of these beautiful swans,” Avella said. “The public outcry has been severe—many New York residents do not want to see mute swans eliminated and animal advocacy organizations, wildlife experts, rehabilitators and others have also joined the chorus of opposition.  In addition, to imposing a two-year moratorium, my bill requires DEC to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans.”

… Donald S. Heintzelman, ornithologist, author and authority on Northern migratory swans and mute swans states,  “My professional opinion is that these public disputes about mute swans are overblown and unnecessary. These birds do not cause catastrophic damage, although most state wildlife agencies have engrained in their official mindsets the notion that mute swans should be destroyed merely because they are non-native species that might compete with native tundra swans and more rarely trumpeter swans. In fact, tundra swans very rarely are seen in New York State (and hence are irrelevant to the agencies’ mindsets).

“As for the few trumpeter swans living at two locations in the state, they are geographically far removed from Long Island and thus are not impacted by mute swans on Long Island. Certainly, mute swans are not pushing out New York’s small population of trumpeter swans. Furthermore, arguments that mute swans are aggressive, and also consume large amounts of submerged aquatic vegetation, are greatly overblown—and represent bad science.”

Cymbrowitz’s office issued a release this afternoon confirming that he would be the Assembly sponsor. From their release:

“Wildlife experts and environmentalists are not unanimous in their belief that exterminating the mute swan population is justified, and there’s plenty of debate over whether eradicating mute swans will be even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or our environment,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. Also, while it makes for a good anecdote, there is evidence that nary a human has been attacked by a mute swan, he said. While the graceful birds may hiss in an effort to protect their young, experts said the swans are rarely if ever moved to unprovoked aggression against people.

He noted that three other states – Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut – currently use non-lethal methods to control their mute swan populations. Only Maryland exterminates the birds, “which demonstrates that the precedent is there for using a humane alternative,” he said.

The community can comment on the DEC’s plan until February 21. To do so, write to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to (please type “Swan Plan” in the subject line).

Comment policy


  1. Thank you Ned for your help and promotion of this issue. Please to all those who care, email and send letters to the above address and contact your local politicians,

  2. Someone please investigate this Conservation Department. If you read their justification for murder, two of the items are:

    – Swans can be aggressive towards people
    – Swans are territorial, and displace native wildlife species
    First point: I have heard that if you stick your hand down their throat, they will indeed attack. Well, since I’ve heard this is also true of Erica Sherman, will she be eliminated too? Other than that has anyone seen any evidence of one of these swans rising up to attack people???? Give me a freaking break.
    Second point: I’ve seen these swans competing for food with all sorts of other birds flying in there. And anyone who has watched will see the same thing. The swans lose out on the food to these other animals because they are the LEAST aggressive. I’ve never seen one attack another, or attack any other creature.
    Now, this is hardly scientific evidence, but I’m going to need a lot more to go by from this “conservation” department before I agree to put these lovely creatures to death.
    It is NOT enough to just fight off this department on this one issue. Clearly something is wrong here, and an offensive needs to be taken against them. I’m sure you’ll somehow find payoffs at the end of any investigative road.

  3. I just sent the following email to the address given:

    “I’ve read of the plan to eliminate swans in Sheepshead Bay. Far better public good would be served by eliminating the incompetent department that proposed this. Please save us taxpayers money, and save beautiful creatures, and save our environment. It’s a win-win-win proposition that I suggest.”

  4. I’m looking forward to reading the ornithologists’ work. I’ve seen the 2013 Guyot “Synthesis” and Guyot 2011 study and the earlier Connecticut study, and think the DEC’s conclusions are not well-founded. In the two studies, mute swans were actually associated with a greater number of other waterfowl. It actually is the trumpeter swan that eats 20 lbs. a day — compared to the 4-8 lbs. of the mute swan. The trumpeter swan, the DEC says began breeding in New York in the 1990s, a full century after the mute swan. So, pray tell, who is the “native New Yorker”? When introduced into Michigan, the trumpeter swan, in the report I saw, proved non-migratory. The claim that the trumpeter swan ever was native to New York is not well-founded. And why on earth should they kill a beloved icon just because some blue-blooded duck hunters want a trophy waterfowl (the trumpeter) to shoot?

    If you want to kill the territorial pair of swans I know and love, you better not have studied only flocks of 20 while failing to fairly characterize the independent literature and while arbitrarily and capriciously favoring the trumpeter swan. Those four tame swans given to Thomas Jefferson in 1808, I submit, were mute swans. Classified ads for mute swans appeared, by Ringgold, for example, in the 1862 Cultivator which is online in google books. Some trumpeter swans, in contrast, began breeding Upstate in the 1990s after escaping from the game preserve of real estate developer Congel.

    As evidence of hostility the DEC ironically points out that they have gotten fewer than a dozen complaints a year and that often they relate to a news item about a particular cranky swan. They note that they have gotten ten times that number during the same period complaining and inquiring about the aggressiveness of DEC personnel towards the swans. It makes no sense that they would even make the point about a swan’s aggressiveness — based on the evidence. The 1994 study found that swans in fact did not interfere with the mating even of the geese. Landowners, truth be told, like the swans because they keep the geese from pooping on their lawn. If you want a scientific database of daily observation over the course of years, you need to only turn to the comments from the 23,000+ petition at

  5. I am only an untrained observer. But I can tell you that since mute swans have returned to Prospect Park Lake, the geese population has dropped noticeably. The nerve of the authorities to want to destroy the entire state’s swan population is sickening. It smacks of right wing hysteria. The species does not over populate and does not fly at altitudes that effect planes. Plus people love them. The people want swans!! Write and agitate your local representative about stopping this genocidal plan to eradicate mute swans, especially the mayor.

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