A Dysfunctional Chain of Being: Swans, Canada Geese, Snapping Turtles and Raccoons

Since I have been coming to Shu Swamp on a regular basis, there has been a pair of swans that has nested at the pond just south of the entrance into Beaver Lake. As far as I know they have probably nested here for many seasons before. Swans are not native to North America and are noted for their aggressive behavior towards other birds and destruction of vegetation beds in water bodies. You may know about the controversy concerning efforts by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to remove swans from New York. Other states have taken this step but New York hasn’t thus far. Just this spring the most recent proposal to extirpate swans was shot down due to public outcry and subsequent pressure on politicians.

The video gives you an idea of the aggression of swans during their nesting season. Here the male swan is attempting to drive away a pair of Canada geese who are also attempting to nest. While Canada geese are native they don’t normally nest this far south, at least not until the last few decades. Now it’s commonplace.

Since I have been watching these swans they seem to manage to hatch 6 or 7 cygnets. Many times I have seen the mom and dad proudly parade their cygnets from pond to lake and back. But what I have also noticed is that as the summer wears on there are fewer and fewer cygnets until, inevitably it seems, mom and dad are all alone. And its not because the cygnets have fledged. No, they have been eaten by the gigantic snapping turtles lurking beneath the surface. So the snapping turtles seem to be doing the same job NYSDEC would like to do; without a permit of course. As an added bonus snapping turtles are truely native!

However, the last laugh doesn’t belong to the turtle. Instead it belongs to the raccoon whose numbers in recent years have taken off. They just love people, well actually people garbage, and they have no predators. They also love reptile eggs. The banks of Shu Swamp are littered with the egg shell remains of plundered turtle nests. I doubt those snapping turtles are any better off as parents then the swans.

So what we have here is one heck of dysfunctional food chain. All of these animals are interacting in bizarre and unanticipated ways with the one common denominator being us and our various influences on the environment, whether it be introduction of animals we deem attractive (swan) or providing lots of food (raccoons and geese).

3 thoughts on “A Dysfunctional Chain of Being: Swans, Canada Geese, Snapping Turtles and Raccoons

  1. RB

    actually, despite the common perception, diet studies show snappers don’t eat birds much. There are lots of other more likely predators, including racoons and feral cats.

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  2. Brendan

    I spent a lot of time last summer visiting Upper Francis Pond, right upstream from Shu Swamp. I watched a pair of swans with many young early in the season, with only 1 that made it through the fall. My guess is the Osprey (that also nest above Upper Francis Pond) had something to do with it, as the adult swans always made a lot of commotion when the Osprey flew around.

    Osprey usually circle and hover over water before they dive for fish. At Upper Francis I’ve seen them fly through the trees, over the spill on the North side, and fly only 20 feet over the water at a very high speed. I’ve never seen them attack the swans, but I wouldn’t doubt it if they have, with that approach.

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  3. Pingback: Swans Revisited | Adopt-A-Trout

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