THE ACCIDENTAL WILDLIFE DABBLER
Do not consider this page "education". Rather, consider it the experiences of a self-taught dabbler; "How in the world can I muddle through and do good things with so little training and talent".
Things change slowly, almost imperceptible and subtle tweaks that allow for creatures in the wild to migrate elsewhere or adapt.
So we think that fairways, bunker, greens, and water hazards can be "updated" and life for the swans and other birds goes on unimpeded. The waterways have long been problematic: silted, rotting vegetation; a dumping ground for leaves, branches, grasses; seagrape leaves that blow in; minimal flows most of the year and a few times a year significant rises in level that bring in seawater, tarpon, and voracious otters.
So-called nuisance trees were numerous on the Bay Isles courses as were overhanging branches and man-made debris piles.
But a new day has dawned with salt-tolerant grass, beautiful greens, and most nuisance trees removed. The edges of the waterways are clean and shaped, the amount of natural and man-made debris going into the water is now at a minimum. Views are expanded, the game of golf is vastly improved, and we can all be thankful for the investment that made all this possible.
But what about the 24 hour per day residents. How are they doing? Start with food: plenty of grasses, water, fish, and grubs. The quality of the water will be slow to improve without intervention, meaning dredging of the silt and rotting material. Moving on to shelter, birds nesting in the trees have fewer choices and, if cutting of nesting trees continues, perhaps their numbers will decline. Birds, as with other animals, need to make themselves less obvious to avoid predators. They need pockets of safety, numerous and spaced at moderate distances. The brush, the bushes, the fallen limbs, the shade trees all provided habitat to sleep, breed, rest, and raise the young. The dearth of that portion of the habitat is serious stuff and could cause severe declines in certain species.
It's a fair question to ask that if changes to habitat cause regression of certain species, will there be others who will benefit? In short, we see that already in the explosion of resident Canada Geese. And their history is well known; detrimental to the habitat, birds and waterfowl, and people. With two nests per year and two to nine goslings per nest, their numbers are already staggering and could bring about public health issues if not abated.
Swans have a tendency to isolate themselves when sick. Why? Not sure, maybe a desire to not infect or disrupt others. Swans move and forage for many hours in the water. They also forage on land and rest on land. They can sleep on either. Drinking water is a must, and eating tree nuts or other things undigestible is common. Not doing these things is a concern.
Mouth-breathing is not a good sign as are lethargy, erratic movement, and soiled feathers. The black knob above the bill is an indicator of hydration, shrinking an indication of dehydration. Soiled feathers is a sign of weakness, not having the energy to constantly prune the body's feathers and maintain bouyancy. Lethargy is a sign of being on the downhill, futility from not getting well. Erratic neck or body movement could be a precursor to not having control of muscles, perhaps avian botulism is beginning to grip its victim.
What to do? Capture and get the swan to an avian vet, always a challenge to accomplish.
Same Gender Pairing
There is nothing more distressing for me than seeing someone purchase a breeding pair of swans for the sole purpose of having cygnets.... just because they're cute. Then, when cygnets arrive, what do they do?
The Foundation has a tenet of its existence to not allow proliferation of the species without this being a responsibility accepted by the new owners. Thus, in filling its territories and in placing cygnets outside of Longboat Key, we simply will not provide breeding pairs to someone who does not fully understand the obligations of creating new life.
But we have to look inward into our adopted solution, same gender pairing. Does it "work"? Is it "ethical'? Is it "contrary" to what occurs in nature?
It certainly works. In both males and females, while the original pairing will hold for a period of time, the swans do their own evaluation and will cohabitate as they please. Thus, we end up with threesomes and loners as well as loyal pairs of both females and males.
It is ethical when you consider that a grouping of swans cavort, share food sources, stay on guard while others sleep, and communicate in ways I'd like to understand myself. While they do not enjoy the pleasures of the opposite sex, perhaps out-of-sight out-of-mind applies. Yes, it does restrict nature, but it provides a harmony that allows them to live good and long lives.
It is contrary to what occurs in an environment of freedom and survival of the fittest. But swans are not native to Florida or the USA. As evidenced by efforts to cull the populations in areas such as Michigan, New York, and the Chesapeake Bay, non-native swans have become problematic to the point where near-eradication is a valid solution. The Foundation takes no position on these issues, yet it understands that by keeping progeny in-check, it can never be accused of being a contributor to negative impacts on other species or the environment.