[Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

Wayne Weber contopus at telus.net
Tue Jun 23 14:45:45 PDT 2015


I meant to respond earlier to Matt's message about Mute Swans, but have been out of town most of the time since then.

First of all, I would agree completely with Matt that there is not an established wild population of Mute Swans in the state of Washington. That point is not in dispute. However, what I find puzzling is the refusal of the Washington Bird Records Committee to accept that at least some of the Washington records of Mute Swan are probably vagrants or stragglers from the well-established population in coastal BC. After all, the WBRC devotes most of its efforts, by far, to reviewing records of species which are vagrants in Washington, not to species which are permanent residents.

When I discussed this subject with a couple of members of the WBRC by e-mail 2 or 3 years ago, they seemed very poorly informed about the status of Mute Swans in BC, and seemed almost contemptuous of the idea that some of the Mute Swan sightings in NW Washington might be wanderers or vagrants from BC.

Yes, I am well aware that there is a control program which is trying to prevent Mute Swans from becoming established breeders in WA. However, there is no such program in BC (there probably should be!!), nor any likelihood that one will be started soon, and it is very likely that the introduced population around Vancouver and on Vancouver Island will continue to grow.

I find it disturbing that the WBRC is using political considerations, rather than biological ones, to decide whether or not a species should be included on the official state list. In other words, because WDFW has a control program for Mute Swans, and has asked WBRC not to include the species on the state list, the WBRC has apparently caved in to political pressure.

At any rate, none of the above really has any bearing on whether Mute Swans are "countable" on anyone's state list for Washington. If you believe that a Mute Swan sighting of yours was of a bird or birds that came from the established BC population, rather than birds that escaped locally, then it is perfectly reasonable for you to include it on your WA state list which you submit to the ABA or to WASHINGTON BIRDER. I consider that at least a couple of Mute Swan sightings of mine in Whatcom County and Skagit County are highly likely to be birds that travelled from BC, so I include this species on my state list and on my lists for those 2 counties. If I had seen Mute Swans elsewhere in WA, I would think that they were likely to be locally escaped birds, and would not count them. The decision to count or not to count is up to the individual birder.

All the best,

Wayne C. Weber
Delta, BC
contopus at telus.net
Past Chairman, BC Bird Records Committee

-----Original Message-----
From: tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu [mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Matt Bartels
Sent: June-05-15 8:41 AM
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] On the Subject/Status of Mute Swans

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.


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

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