Swan Ache

It being the lusty month of May, there’s a whole lotta lotta going on in the cove where I live . . . nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more. The osprey pair returned right on time and now they’re busy making little raptors, the mallard drakes are acting like a bunch of drunken frat boys, and there are times that the whole place feels like Animal Planet gone Playboy Channel.

S’wonderful, except for two big, fluffy, white problems. A pair of mute swans has discovered our little slice of paradise. I first met them one morning during my walk-the-dogs-and-check-the-boats routine. There they were, two Sta-Puff marshmallow behemoths, squatting right smack in the middle of a tangle of fragile beach grasses—the same grasses my kids aren’t allowed to so much as touch, much less park a wide, feathery, RV-size bootay on. “Hey!” I said to the swans. “Whaddya think you’re doing?” They ignored me. I ordered our anti-Labrador Coco to bark ferociously at them, but she took one look and wisely concluded she’d rather go three rounds with the nearest dumpster.

A day or so later, my daughter Kailani and I were paddling out of the cove in the kayak when we rounded the corner and almost ran into them, cruising about like they thought they belonged in Cannes or maybe Rio. “Slumming?” I asked. One of them—Himself, I presume—inflated like one of those baseball players who is not using steroids. I was waiting for him to crack his neck like Vinny Bagadonuts about to kneecap me, but all that extra tire pressure had practically doubled his neck’s width and I bet he would have thrown a beak out even trying. “Look how puffy he is!” Kailani said. She seemed impressed. I thought he looked like Margaret Thatcher.

It’s not that I have something against these birds—they’re just pushy, greedy and hoity-toity. They don’t even migrate. And to top it off, they’re come-heres—introduced to the U.S. a century ago (from Asia, by way of Europe) as lawn ornaments. The Bay’s feral population took root about 40 years ago when a handful of them made a break for it in Talbot County. Now there are some 4,000 mute swans roaming Maryland waters, noshing on about nine million pounds of precious underwater grasses annually and indiscriminately whupping tar out of any other animal unfortunate enough to come within a half mile of their nests. I should know—one of them tried to box my entire family’s ears when they were dinghying on the Rhode River a couple summers ago.

What to do? I called Jonathan McKnight, who’s the Maryland Department of Natural Resources associate director for habitat conservation. “Can I use an RPG?” I asked. He laughed uneasily (the state frowns on that sort of thing) and suggested I leave it to the pros from Dover—that is, DNR officials who will “addle” the eggs (shake them) to destroy the embryos. This is one way to keep the population down. The other method involves lethal force, and now that the Fish & Wildlife Service has removed mute swans from federal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the DNR can—and will, McKnight says—shoot adult swans (no RPGs though).

There may be another way, though, come to find out. Thanks to Google, I found a business out in Wheeling, Ill., that sells mute swans to homeowners who want to rid their plantations of resident Canada geese. This sounds to me like asking the Hell’s Angels to handle security at your concert at Altamont, but hey, maybe Mick Jagger was wrong. Maybe, for six hundred bucks a nesting pair, you can always get what you want.