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People should think twice before reporting swans that appear in trouble

Published 10:21am Tuesday, December 17, 2013 Updated 12:25pm Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking citizens to consider the situation carefully before reporting swans (or other waterfowl) that appear to be trapped in ice or rapidly freezing water.

Just like people, animals behave differently during various seasons and some wildlife enthusiasts are not prepared to see changes in behavior.

It is easy for people to mistake an animal doing something they’ve never seen before for an animal in distress.

Careful observation over a short period of time (a few days to a week) may reveal a healthy animal that is just behaving differently than expected. People should stop and closely observe before attempting to find help.

“Trumpeter swans are a classic example of this,” said Erica Hoaglund, central region nongame wildlife specialist. “Citizens see them this time of year resting on frozen water or swimming about in small pockets of open water within ice. People assume they are trapped when most of the time they are not and move on in either a few days or a few weeks; it is frequently not the emergency it can first appear to be.”

Here are reminders for people concerned about the fate of swans they see in or near water during the early parts of winter.

Often birds that seem trapped in ice or in a shrinking area of open water turn out to be fine, not trapped and just hanging out in the area. When it’s cold, animals move around less just like people.

On the rare occasion that an animal is actually in distress, it is often physically impossible to reach them safely across thin ice and open frigid water. Often the animals have been unable to leave the area for some underlying reason such as illness or injury and it is impossible to rehabilitate the animal even after its rescue. Do not risk a human life to safe a wild animal.

In the case of swans in Minnesota, the DNR nongame wildlife program is happy to report that after years of restoration efforts, swan populations in the state are now stable and large enough that occasional mortality, while sometimes sad, is not cause for alarm for an entire population.

Animals that die outside in the winter are an important part of the food chain. Their carcasses will provide crucial winter food sources to a wide range of wildlife, including invertebrates, mice and even bald eagles.

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