Diet of Mute Swans

Principal Investigator
Megan Bailey, Honors Student

Dr. Scott Petrie, Long Point Waterfowl Executive Director

During the past 30 years, nonnative mute swan (Cygnus olor) populations have greatly increased, and continue to increase, in the eastern United States and within the Lower Great Lakes region. As a result, there is much concern regarding impacts of mute swan on native waterfowl, aquatic plants, and marsh habitats. There are presently only limited dietary data for mute swans in North America and none exist for birds in the Lower Great Lakes region. Thus, in 2001, 2002, and 2004 we collected 132 mute swans from Lower Great Lakes coastal marshes in Ontario, Canada, to determine dietary composition and to evaluate 1) seasonal and sex-related variation in adult diets and 2) age-related dietary differences. Adult diets did not differ among years, collection sites, or seasons, but female diets contained more pondweed spp. (Potamogeton spp.) and less slender naiad (Najas flexilis) and common waterweed (Elodea canadensis) than did diets of males. Adult males, adult females, and cygnets had similar diets during summer and autumn. Overall, mute swan diets mainly consisted of above-ground biomass of pondweed spp., muskgrass (Chara vulgaris), coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum), slender naiad, common waterweed, wild celery (Vallisneria americana), and wild rice (Zizania palustris); below-ground parts of wild celery, sago pondweed (Stuckenia pectinatus), and arrowhead spp. (Sagittaria spp.) were eaten infrequently. Comparison of our findings with those of other diet studies suggested considerable dietary overlap between mute swans and several other species of native waterfowl. Thus, we suggest that mute swans have potential to compete with native waterfowl and impact aquatic plants that are important waterfowl foods within Lower Great Lakes coastal marshes. Further, our results can be used to assess which aquatic plant species may be most impacted by foraging activities of mute swans at other important waterfowl stopover and wintering sites in North America.

To read Megan’s paper on theĀ diet of Mute Swans in Lower Great Lakes Coastal Marshes click here

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