[Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

Matt Bartels mattxyz at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 5 08:41:23 PDT 2015



Hi all -
[read on at your own peril]

With respect to Mute Swans in the state, just wanted to clarify that Wayne's position is an opinion, not a statement of fact.
Likewise, the Washington Bird Records Committee [WBRC] has an opinion on this, as does the ABA.

Here's my take on the situation -
The WBRC keeps the official state list, and does not include Mute Swan on the state checklist. In the opinion of the WBRC, there is not evidence that any reports from the state of this species are part of an established wild population.

As Wayne mentioned, no one is required to abide by the local state BRC rulings in deciding whether or not to include a species on their state checklist. Even the ABA does not require this for lists submitted to them. However, the ABA does suggest that judgement on whether or not to count an exotic be based on the best available information -- and I'd suggest that local Bird Records Committees might be a very useful source of guidance when making such judgement calls. We can't all keep up to date on status of every species, vagrancy patterns and the like. If there's a group that is tasked with looking in to such things, I'd recommend relying on them as the default unless you've got a line of reasoning that convinces you otherwise.

Moving to the ABA side of things, here's a webpage with info on how to determine 'countability' of exotics
http://listing.aba.org/criteria-determining-establishment-exotics/

Take a look at criteria #3 on that list:
3) The population is not currently, and is not likely to be, the subject of a control program where eradication may be a management goal that is likely to succeed. Some exotics (e.g., Mute Swan) present a clear danger to native species or habitats, or to agriculture or commerce, in some areas, and listing these species as established may create a conflict between some birders and land management personnel.

To me, that seems to be a pretty clear statement that Mute Swan in WA [a bird subject to control programs] is not countable. To keep things needlessly complex though, the ABA also states that Mute Swan one of the established exotics 'grandfathered in' to the checklist at the ABA level, despite not meeting these criteria. Whether the same grandfathering does or does not apply to regional level decisions is still in limbo at the ABA level.

So, though no one is required to follow decisions of the WBRC for countability in WA, if the guidance is there, I'd recommend taking advantage of it unless you've got a solid reason for deciding otherwise.

Best,

Matt Bartels
Seattle WA
[also WBRC secretary, though the above is my own take on the situation]



-----Original Message-----

>From: Wayne Weber <contopus at telus.net>

>Sent: Jun 5, 2015 7:01 AM

>To: TWEETERS <tweeters at u.washington.edu>

>Subject: Re: [Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

>

>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

>bird.

>

>

>

>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

>Bletsch

>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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