[Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

Wayne Weber contopus at telus.net
Fri Jun 5 07:01:09 PDT 2015

Gary and Tweeters,

So who said you "weren't supposed to count them in WA"? It certainly wasn't
WOS, who does not keep track of birders' lists, and doesn't care how long
your list is.

There are only two kinds of "countability" that are important--
countability by the American Birding Association (which matters only to ABA
members who submit their lists to ABA), and countability, or rather
reportability to eBird, which matters mostly to birders who use eBird. I
will deal with each of these in turn.

As for the ABA- there is an official ABA Check-list (available on their
website), which includes all native N.A. species, and all non-native species
considered by the ABA to be "established". An "established" introduced
species has a significant and self-sustaining population which is usually
stable or increasing, and has been successfully breeding in the wild for at
least 10 years, often much longer than that. New species are steadily being
added to the ABA "established" list, including Rosy-faced Lovebird, Egyptian
Goose, and Scaly-breasted Munia in the last 2 or 3 years. It is important to
decide which species are "established" and which are not, although the line
between is often a very arbitrary one.

The Mute Swan is on the ABA list and has been for many years, mostly because
of large populations on the East Coast and in the Great Lakes area. However,
the ABA does not keep track of state lists, and does not declare in which
states a species is "countable". That is up to the judgment of the
individual birder. Mute Swans are also solidly established in southwestern
BC, both on southern Vancouver Island and in the Vancouver area, where the
species is breeding successfully every year. The total population is
probably over 200 birds. All BC birders that I know count Mute Swans on
their ABA area lists and BC lists.

Now for the question of reporting sightings to eBird. eBird uses different
standards than the ABA does. As a general rule, anything that has a
"persistent population" should be reported to eBird-- i.e., any situation
where several individuals of a species have been present in an area 3-4
years or more. The idea is that some of these species could increase and
become permanently "established" in the future, and it is important to track
the early stages of their occurrence and increase. Many of these "persistent
populations" will eventually die out, but it is impossible to know in
advance which populations will die out, and which will increase and become
"established". Even species considered to be "established" (e.g. Crested
Myna in BC) sometimes eventually die out and become extirpated (locally
extinct) in North America.

When it comes to Mute Swans, I have seen Mute Swans several times in both
Whatcom and Skagit Counties. I consider these to have most likely been
stragglers from the well-established B.C. population. Therefore, I count
them on my Washington state list, and also on the county lists that I report
to "Washington Birder". I have seen single Mute Swans elsewhere in
Washington and Oregon, but I consider those to be most likely local escapes,
not part of a "persistent population" and I do not list or even record such

The treatment in eBird of single birds which have obviously recently escaped
from captivity is not consistent. My position, and I believe it's the
majority one, is that such birds should not be reported to eBird. If we
reported every Budgerigar or Canary that had just escaped its cage (or
single Mute Swans), the database would be flooded with reports of recent
escapes, and the distinction between wild birds and recently escaped birds
would be seriously blurred. eBird is supposed to be for recording wild
birds, not captive ones. As an eBird editor, when I receive reports of such
birds, I ask the reporter to remove it from his or her list; if they do not,
I then invalidate it, which indicates that I do not think it is a valid
report of a wild bird. There are some eBird editors who think that every
escaped bird should be reported to eBird, but I disagree strongly with this
viewpoint, and I see no point in reporting recent escapes.

Getting back to Mute Swans-- I believe that sightings in Whatcom and Skagit
Counties are most likely to be wanderers from the established BC population,
and therefore both countable by ABA standards and reportable to eBird. A
flock of 5 at the Kent Ponds also sounds like it is most likely to be some
wanderers from BC.

However, sightings of single birds elsewhere in Washington, especially in
eastern Washington, are most likely to be local escapes, and thus not
countable by ABA standards. Looking at the Mute Swan records for WA in
eBird, I see that there are numerous sightings recorded throughout the Puget
Sound area, quite a few sightings (all of a single bird) in Clark County,
and a few scattered sightings in eastern WA. I would suggest to the
Washington State eBird editors that they should perhaps reconsider their
policy on accepting sightings of single Mute Swans far from any established
population, but I probably won't change their minds.

All the best,

Wayne C. Weber

Delta, BC

contopus at telus.net

From: tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu
[mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Gary
Sent: May-28-15 7:18 AM
To: Blair Bernson
Cc: Tweeters
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

Dear Blair and Tweeters,

I can't enlighten anyone about Mute Swans, but I will say that for a long
time, we weren't supposed to count them in WA. As far as I can recall, we
are still "not supposed to" count them. I don't remember whether it was WOS
or some other body, but the Mute Swan has been considered a non-countable
species. Someone once told me that it had to do with WDFW's stance--that
they were considered an introduced pest. However, I also understood that
they breed in BC somewhere, so there is rarely any sure way to know whether
a particular Mute Swan came from a feral breeding population, or simply
slipped away from someone's collection.

I grew up counting them back in my native NY state, where they were and are
indeed an introduced pest species, just as Starlings, Rock Pigeons, and
House Sparrows are. At one time, early in the ABA's history, there was a
debate as to whether "Rock Doves" should be counted, but that issue was laid
to rest a long time ago.

My opinion is that a stray Mute Swan in Washington ought to be countable,
unless there is evidence that it is an escapee.

On the other hand, lots of people count Ring-necked Pheasants in places in
Washington State, such as Skagit County, where they do not appear to breed,
but are merely survivors of the annual release of birds for slaughter. It
seems strange that a gallinaceous bird that walks a hundred yards from a pen
is counted by the same birders who don't count a swan--one that has
presumably flown hundreds of kilometers from a pond where it was reared by
feral parents.

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch

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