- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
Nonnative visitant all seasons; no viable breeding population. The Mute Swan was very rare during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
This nonnative species was introduced from Europe for its aesthetic appeal in the late 19th century and in following decades to several eastern states. The multiple introductions established breeding populations in many states, especially along the northeastern Atlantic coast, from Maine to South Carolina, and in the Great Lakes states. Smaller populations are also present in the Pacific Northwest. Early introductions that spread were from Massachusetts (1909 and 1916, Boston), New York (1910 and 1912, Hudson River and Long Island), and Maryland. On the Atlantic Seaboard, large invasive populations are now a particular problem in New York, southern New England, and the Chesapeake Bay. The Great Lakes populations are of special relevance because of potential dispersals to Minnesota. Several of these states do have viable populations that are expanding. An important introduction was in Michigan (1919, Charlevoix County, north of Grand Traverse Bay); the young birds were allowed to fly free and were not pinioned. In the 1960s and 1970s, swans were reintroduced or expanded to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, mostly at sites along the Great Lakes shores. The nodes of concentration were for the most part along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, and large rivers. Mute Swans are most abundant along the southern New England coast and in Michigan, eastern Wisconsin, and northern Indiana and Ohio (Figure 1).
Designated an unprotected, regulated invasive species in Minnesota.
The birds are sedentary and can establish a year-round population where there is open water that does not freeze during the winter or in urban areas where they are fed.
Feeds primarily on submerged aquatic plants; some aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as waste grain, are also ingested.
A depression within the center of a mound constructed largely of aquatic emergent vegetation; the nest is usually placed along the shoreline of a peninsula or island.
The first record of Mute Swans in Minnesota was on May 27, 1974, when 3 birds were seen on Lake Superior at Duluth, and later in June on the St. Louis River (Green 1975). Publicity surrounding those records turned up several more observations from other places on Lake Superior from Cook County (January 1975) and the Thunder Bay area in Ontario (1974) to Ashland, Wisconsin (1973, 1974). It was subsequently discovered that a feral breeding population was established in 1971–1975 in northwestern Wisconsin (Robbins 1991). In the 1980s there were yearly, mostly spring, reports from Lake Superior at Duluth. It was assumed that the birds originated from the Ashland population, and since these were “wild” birds, the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (MOU) Records Committee considered Lake Superior Mute Swan reports acceptable as records of wild birds (Eckert 1992). During this period of time, there was 1 breeding record at Duluth in 1988: 2 adults, nest with 1 young fledged (Wiens 1989). No viable population was established.
It has been more difficult to consider other Minnesota records as reports of wild birds. Most are classified as origin “unknown.” A compilation of Mute Swan records from the seasonal report archive for The Loon shows that observations were reported every year after 1980. They occur in all seasons: spring, 43 years; summer, 20 years; fall, 29 years; and winter, 25 years. They have been reported from 45 of Minnesota’s 87 counties; all but 7 counties are in the southern half of the state. Twenty-eight records are from south of Mille Lacs and east of Brown and Renville Counties.
Although there are nesting records from Steele (1989), Washington (2005), and Anoka (2006) Counties, there is no indication that there is a wild breeding population in the state (MOU seasonal reports). Counties with the most multiple-year records are Goodhue, Hennepin, Meeker, and Sherburne, but no evidence of a sustained population exists. Birds are assumed to be escapes or released from captive flocks or wanderers from other states. Even records from wildlife refuges do not indicate a wild breeding population; they are just as likely to be escapes or wanderers. In Minnesota, most open water freezes every winter, which constrains a sedentary species from creating a viable year-round breeding population in the wild. Another constraint is their status as unprotected under both state and federal authorities. Birds found nesting in natural habitats can be removed as a nuisance.
MNBBA records were from only 2 locations, 1 in McLeod County (July 2012), and 1 on the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge on the border of Carver and Scott Counties (August 2009). Additional information about these two birds was available on the MOU website: the bird on the refuge (T115R23c) had been seen in the area during the previous two years, and there were multiple reports from June 20, and from August 1 through October 18 in 2009 (MOU seasonal reports); the bird in McLeod County (T117R28a) was with Trumpeter Swans and was seen multiple times. Both these records and a number of other records during the MNBBA years are on the MOU website. Mute Swan reports submitted to the MNBBA had to fit within the safe dates of May 1 and August 1; so observations outside of this window were excluded. All reports submitted to MOU before or after these dates fit the usual pattern of incidental observations from ponds, lakes, wastewater treatment plants, and near the casinos in Goodhue and Pine Counties.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.