Category Archives: Flora & Fauna

Rare or noteworthy wildlife spotted in New York State Parks

Targeting a Watery Invader at Lake Taghkanic

Thanks to a “hands-on” kayak mission against invasive water chestnut this summer at Lake Taghkanic State Park, this popular lake ought to be clearer of these aquatic invaders for next paddling season.

And timing is critical in dealing with water chestnuts, floating plants which can rapidly spread to create dense patches that can clog a lake, damage the native ecosystem and make it hard for canoeists and kayakers to paddle.

Water chestnut (Trapa natans) is one of the several Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) that are monitored in hopes of reducing abundances in state waterbodies. Widespread in the state, water chestnut is now found in 43 counties.

The aquatic invasive water chestnut can be found in 43 countries across the state. Counties shaded green are known to be infested. (Photo Credit – NYS Department of Environmental Conservation)

Invasive species, like water chestnuts, are organisms that are non-native to an area, typically causing harm to human health, the economy, and the environment. If left unchecked, AIS can spread quickly from one body of water to another, threatening biodiversity and potentially impeding recreational opportunities.

The key to battling the an infestation discovered this season at Lake Taghkanic in Columbia County was to remove hundreds of plants before going to seed. Water chestnuts are annuals, and thus must reseed themselves each year to propagate.

Anyone who has been out along a shoreline and came across a strong, spiny, star-shaped brown nut-like “fruit” or seed pods has found a water chestnut nut. Bearing four sharp spines or points, each nut contains a single seed that can produce 10 to 15 stems.

Anchored to the water bottom, the plants have submerged, feathery brownish leaves on stems that can grow up to 15 feet long. On the water’s surface, these stems come to an end with a floating rosette, or circular arrangement of leaves. The leaves are triangular shaped with toothed edges.

These clusters can float on the surface due to buoyancy bladders connected to the leaf stems, forming dense floating mats that can be nearly impenetrable. Each rosette produces about 20 of the hard nut-like fruits in the late summer and early fall which, after dropping from the plant to the water bottom, lay in sediment over the winter to sprout in the spring

You can imagine the concern when water chestnut showed up in Lake Taghkanic State Park, a park focused on boating, swimming, water sports and beach activities. Controlling water chestnut at the park was vital to support these recreational opportunities as well as the native fauna of the lake, including one rare species known there.

Due to the fast-growing nature of water chestnut, it is important to control newly introduced infestations as soon as possible, also known as “early detection, rapid response” (EDRR). If left unchecked, patches of water chestnuts can spread prolifically.

A map of Lake Taghkanic, showing the area of water chestnut infestation highlighted in green. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)


Water chestnut is an invasive species of high concern for many waterbodies in New York State, having potential ecological, economic and health impacts. The plant can form dense mats on the water’s surface, greatly impacting the organisms below. These layered mats can block sun and oxygen from submerged plants, resulting in a die back of native species and fish populations. Recreation is also inhibited by dense patches of water chestnuts, making it difficult to swim, boat, kayak, or fish. The spiny nuts often drift to shore, creating an additional hazard for pets and people to step on.

Effective control of water chestnut depends largely on preventing seed formation. By manually removing the plants in mid-summer before mature seeds can drop, managers can halt such potential reproduction.

At Lake Taghkanic, staff from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, state Department of Environmental Protection, and Capital Region Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) worked to rapidly respond to the infestation. This team of ten individuals were well-versed in the control of invasive species, and several team members had prior experience manually removing water chestnut.

Held July 16, the pull was led by Matt Brincka (NYS Parks Invasive Biologist), with other participants including Falon Neske (NYS Parks), Lindsey DeLuna (NYS Parks), Lauren Gallagher (NYS Parks), Rebecca Ferry (NYS Parks), Kristopher Williams (Capital Region PRISM), Lauren Mercier (PRISM), Lauren Henderson (PRISM), Steven Pearson (DEC), and Catherine McGlynn (DEC).

The team navigated to the water chestnut infestation in kayaks, maintaining social distancing and wearing face coverings when necessary. When manually pulling water chestnut plants, it’s important to reach as far down the stem as possible to pull the root system from the bottom sediment.

At Lake Taghkanic, water chestnut was mixed in among lily pads, presenting a challenge to pulling by hand from kayaks. (Photo credit – NYS DEC)

Once pulled, the water chestnuts were collected in garbage bags, drained, and weighed. Within a day, more than 100 pounds, or from 300 to 400 plants were removed! The information was recorded for upload to iMapInvasives so that the infestation of water chestnuts can be tracked.

Afterward, the team also surveyed the 3.7 mile lakeshore to ensure there were no other visible water chestnuts. Parks staff developed a control plan that will include monitoring and hand-pulling at Lake Taghkanic annually in order to deplete the seed bank (seeds can remain viable for several years at the bottom) and keep the problem at bay.

Over the years, NY State Parks has organized and participated in several invasive species pulls, additionally having a seasonally staffed AIS Strike Team and Boat Steward program. Reader more about these programs in the posts below.

Selkirk Shores State Park has been one focus area for State Parks staff in efforts to control a water chestnut infestation. In 2015, about 240 bags of water chestnut were removed there, visibly reducing the biomass by 40 percent. During the 2016 season, another 12.5 tons were pulled out. This removal resulted in a decrease in abundance of water chestnut during from 2017 through this year, further maintaining the value of this State Park.

Prompt invasive species responses, such as water chestnut pulls, work towards ensuring recreational enjoyment and preserving natural ecosystems in our parks. Early detections of invasive species are often reported by patrons.

The next paddling season may be months away, but remember: If you believe you have found a new population of an invasive species at a State Park, tell a park staff member or reporting it in iMapInvasives will ensure that swift eradication action is taken.

Protecting Our Waterways

You may have seen them in a park near you, these super heroes and heroines in disguise. Since 2008, New York State Parks have deployed Invasive Species Strike Teams. These Strike Teams conduct invasive species surveys and manually remove non-native invasive plants in areas of significance. The goal is to protect native plant and animal … Continue reading Protecting Our Waterways

Cover shot: Members of the removal team spread out in kayaks on Lake Taghkanic.

Post by Lauren Gallagher, State Parks Water Quality Unit

Nature Education At Letchworth During COVID

On the second weekend in March with spring in the air at Letchworth State Park, maple sap was being boiled down into tasty syrup in the newly built sugar shack at the park’s Humphrey Nature Center. Maple weekends were coming soon, and many gallons of syrup were needed to treat hundreds of visitors expected for outdoor education programs in one of western New York’s most popular State Parks.

But the next day, the sugar shack at Letchworth went cold. Because of emerging COVID-19 pandemic, Parks workers were told to immediately start working remotely from home. So public events at State Parks like Maple Weekends were cancelled. And a completely booked public field trip season at Letchworth for May and June disappeared as well.

If people could no longer brought to nature by park naturalists, perhaps those naturalists could bring nature to people remotely?

Immediately, newly hired NYS Parks Corps member Conrad Baker tapped prior video production experience to make a weekly video series called ‘Nature Detectives,’ for Letchworth State Park’s Facebook page. The approximately five-minute videos invited viewers, especially kids, to use their senses, or ‘nature tools,’ to make observations, or ‘notice nature clues’ about a mysterious plant, animal, or fungus found outdoors. Then, the video solved the mystery and encouraged viewers to find the same species in their own neighborhoods.

Conrad Baker tees up a video for the Nature Detective series on the NYS Parks Facebook page. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)


While using these  videos satisfied the Park’s short-term goal of providing some safe, educational public programs,  none of the Nature Center’s field trips were happening for the foreseeable future. But within this challenge lay an unexpected opportunity. Now unable to deliver in-person programs as usual, Environmental Educator Elijah Kruger could use the sudden schedule vacancies to adapt existing field trip lesson plans into safe, immersive, virtual programming. With   Baker at the camera, Kruger took to the field.

Letchworth State Park educators and interpretive staff Mike Landowski, Steph Spittal, Karen Russell, Sandy Wallace, Doug Bassett, and Brian Scriven reviewed draft videos and gave crucial program design advice.

There are currently five virtual field trip videos on the NYS Parks YouTube channel. The playlist is accessible here.

Since previous records showed that the topics of Geology, Mammals, and Invasive Species were the most in-demand field trips, those videos were made throughout April and May, and released June 1. Next came more scientifically complex field trips about the natural world and the human relationship with it. A field trip on Forest Ecology was released Sept. 18. Life of the Monarch butterfly is the most recent to go up.

Normally, an in-person Geology field trip group would hike about three quarters of a mile between several gorge overlooks, with the trip taking about 90 minutes.  But using video, viewers can move instantly between overlooks and cover the entire field trip in detail in 20 minutes. This work pushed the limits of cell phones, birding cameras, free editing software, and existing office supplies that had to take the place of top-end video gear.

A Mammalogy field trip group is often stationary, sometimes even inside the Nature Center. An educator invites the field trip group to see and feel up-close details of mammal furs and skulls to learn more about their adaptations and roles in the ecosystem. On video, such furs and skulls are presented next to real-world outdoor signs left by these animals. Close-up cutaway shots were key to highlight the animals’ homes, scat, and habitats. Deep detail in teeth, bones, and furs were only visible by building on the right cutaways.

Previously, in-person Invasive Species field trip groups never hiked through the territory now covered by the Invasive Species virtual field trip. This third field trip video was an opportunity to use cutaways and editing to visually capture complex, multi-stage forest succession changes, like deer overbrowsing, in which deer damage the ecosystem by eating away at all the young trees and shrubs.

And some improvisation was needed to get the right shots. By using rubber bands to attach lenses to cell phone cameras, close-ups showed fine details in macro shots, like crawling ticks and the hemlock wooly adelgid, a tiny insect that threatens the health of helmlock trees.

Previously, a Forest Ecology field trip group would walk about a half-mile of forest trail around the Nature Center, noticing content-relevant animals, plants, fungi, and environments along the way. Field trip video now assembles a kind of “best of” experience, with exceptional examples of lichens, woodpecker holes, short-lived fungi and quick glimpses of animals from miles apart and over several weeks into one cohesive experience.

The Life of the Monarch video is the culmination of skills and tools picked up from the four previous videos. The segments are carefully assembled from footage that was shot miles and weeks apart. Close-up cutaways show monarch butterfly handling and tagging. Footage of feeding caterpillars, time lapses of metamorphosis, and slow-motion videos of butterfly releases tie together the story of these creatures’ lives and how they benefit us in unseen ways.

The pandemic encouraged our environmental education staff to do what they do best – adapt and use the tools at their disposal to serve park visitors with safe, enjoyable, educational programs. In-person programming is now resuming with safety precautions. Still, teachers are already starting to request virtual guided field trips, where park educators join classes via video chat to answer questions and match virtual field trip video content to their class lessons.

So, what was born out of necessity and imagination has now become a regular part of Letchworth State Park’s mission to bring education nature programming to anyone, no matter where they might live.


Cover shot – Letchworth State Park Environmental Educator Elijah Kruger with a Monarch butterfly. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)


Post by NYS Parks Corps member Conrad Baker

Help Brewing For Rare “Chitt” Snail at State Parks

Since Ice Age glaciers retreated from New York nearly 12,000 years ago, a snail slightly larger than a dime has lived in damp, shaded and rocky terrain at the base of a towering waterfall in Madison County.

A moist and mild micro-habitat, the “splash zone” around the namesake 167-foot cascade at Chittenango Falls State Park is the last wild place on earth where the Chittenango Ovate Amber snail is known to exist.  The species is named for its home; its ovate, egg-shaped shell; and its amber coloring.

A close-up of the Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail. There are currently about 100 of the tiny mollusks known to exist in Chittenango Falls State Park, the only wild place on earth with a known population. (Photo credit – SUNY-ESF)
The spray from the waterfall at Chittenango Falls State Park creates the moist and mild micro-habitat needed by the snail, which has occupied this place in Madison County since the last Ice Age. (Photo Credit – New York State Parks)

This delicate mollusk leads a precarious existence, as a population now estimated at less than a hundred faces threats from floods, droughts, rockslides, another species of snail, climate change, and even the feet of irresponsible hikers.

The snail was abundant when it was first discovered at the falls in 1905. By the early 1980s, the population was estimated at less than 500 individuals, and the population continued to plummet in the 1990s. The snail is listed as an endangered species by New York State and a threatened species by the federal government. Historically, the species was found in a handful of sites from Tennessee to Ontario, Canada, but now is known to only exist in New York.

To fend off potential extinction of what is affectionately known as the “chitt,” a captive breeding program started five years ago, supported by State Parks, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse. Federal funding to support the program has come from the Great Lake Restoration Initiative.

Banding together on Facebook as the “Snailblazers,” these partners recently added another friend of the chitt – the Critz Farms brewery in Madison County, which has crafted an IPA dedicated to raise funds for the breeding program.



With each leisurely sip of the Endangered Species IPA, described as a “delightfully citrusy, medium-bodied beer,” funds go toward supporting a snail incubator program at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse and the hand collection of a mix of native plant leaves that form the diet of the finicky snail.

Since the program started, nearly 2,000 snails have been propagated in climate-controlled incubators at both SUNY-ESF and the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, said Cody Gilbertson, senior research support specialist at SUNY-ESF. Due to COVID restrictions this year, the zoo incubator program was consolidated into SUNY-ESF.

During field research at Chittenango Falls, SUNY-ESF researcher Cody Gilbertson holds an Ovate Amber snail (below). The captive-bred snails reside in a climate controlled unit back at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse. (Photo Credit – SUNY-ESF)

Of the captive-bred chitts, slightly more than 400 have been released into the park during this time, some as hatchlings and the rest as adults capable of reproduction. Even with these efforts, the snails are barely hanging onto their foothold.


About 500 snails reside in the incubators currently, protected as a “backup” population should some dire circumstances extinguish the Chittenango snails. Hundreds of snails have already lived their entire natural life spans – about two years – in the incubators.

When breeding started, there was an estimated population at the falls of about 350 snails, said Gilbertson. The most recent counts are now at about 100.

The habitat zone, a mix of boulders that have fallen from the limestone cliffs, is consistently moist from the mist of the falls. That nurtures water-loving plants, including a number of native wildflowers, including the snail’s favorite, Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), said Delaney Kalsman, project coordinator at State Parks.

Joe Pye weed, a favorite food of the snail. (Photo credit – State Department of Environmental Conservation)



Located along the park’s Gorge Trail, this area is fenced off and marked against trespassing. Anyone entering the area without authorization can be prosecuted under New York State Environmental Conservation Law and the federal Endangered Species Act.

Another count of the snail population is set for the summer of 2021, said Kalsman. The number of snails has been declining in recent years, with possible explanations including competition from a species of invasive snail and climate change.

“The environment is experiencing longer drought periods, reducing the flow and spray of the falls which the snail relies on,” she said. “When it does rain, large flooding events are happening at greater frequencies. In 2017, a major flood washed away large portions of Joe-Pye weed.”

Within such a small home, a potential extinction-level event can show up quickly. Such events like the 2017 flood, along with the other threats, put the chitt as “severe threat of extinction,” Gilbertson said. “This threat is further amplified because the entire wild population exists only at Chittenango Falls State Park.”

To propagate more snails, Gilbertson needed to understand what they ate from the flora and fauna around the falls. She learned the snails preferred the fallen leaves of black cherry trees collected in early spring, as well as leaves from pignut hickory, sugar maple and ash. And snails needed certain species of leaves at certain times, and at certain stages of decomposition. So, SUNY-ESF and Parks staff needed to collect leaves regularly and maintain a kind of “compost” menu for the snails. The leaves are stored dry and then rehydrated as needed.

“This diet for our snails is more natural than a synthetic paste or vegetables that is used in many other captive invertebrate programs. Survival was boosted by this natural diet,” she said.

A black cherry leave after being consumed by numerous snails. (Photo credit – SUNY-ESF)




State Parks staff is now designing a “garden” of native trees and plants in the park to supply the optimal forage that can be brought to the snails, as part of the efforts spearheaded by Kalsman, park Operations Manager  Shawn Jenkins, and SUNY-ESF FORCES (Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship) stewards Jordan Stransky, Sarah Petty, and David Rojek.

(And for the curious: Snails have a form of teeth, called “radula,” which is Latin for “little scraper.” The radula is a tongue-like ribbon with raised rasps, which the snail uses to scrape and tear away at whatever plant they are eating.)

Another issue to consider is that of a potential lack of genetic diversity, which could make the snails vulnerable to disease. To avoid having the captive offspring breeding only with other captive offspring, researchers periodically gather snails from the falls to be brought into the captive program.

Called “pulsing,” this method “brings new founders from the wild to breed and introduce hypothetically new genetic lines into our captive population,” Gilbertson said.

Snails mate between May and July, resulting in the female laying about a dozen tiny eggs. Each summer, about 200 to 300 snails are reared from those eggs. The hatchlings are so tiny that the safest way for researchers to move them around is by using paintbrushes, she said. The tiny creatures use their “foot,” a muscle that contracts to allow the snail to move, to grasp the bristles on the brush.

Each year, researchers bring more captive-bred snails to the falls to live and breed with the snails there. And this tiny population continues for another day, aided by the work of dedicated people at State Parks, other partners and now brewers and patrons of a farm-brewed IPA.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Chittenango Ovate Amber snail and New York State Parks! (Photo credit – NYS Parks)


(Cover Photo- Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail. Photo Credit- Cody Gilbertson, SUNY – ESF)

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks


Resources

Read a five-year scientific review of the status of the Chittenango Ovate Amber snail by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW).

Discover more about the snail from USFW.

Learn more about the snail in a online book for children created by staffers at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

Donate to the zoo’s snail conservation program.

BioBlitz Weekend Strikes at Knox Farm

What is a BioBlitz? When I hear that word, images of scientists in white lab coats running madly about flash through my mind. Our first ever BioBlitz at Knox Farm State Park, while not so chaotic, certainly had people dashing about.

Unlike my visions, it was not a cadre of sprinting scientists in lab coats, but rather a gathering of researchers and volunteers clad in hiking boots, cargo pants and sun hats. With magnifiers and nets in hand, cameras and binoculars strung around their necks, these 32 intrepid investigators were ready to spread out. Their mission? Find and document as many living species as possible in the park – and do it in just two days

Participants gather for the BioBlitz at Knox Farm State Park. (Photo Credit – Claudia Rosen)

If this sounds like a hefty undertaking, it is. With 633 acres of grasslands, woods and wetlands, Knox is a large area to adequately survey in a short time. However, that is part of the fun of a BioBlitz. Since the word “blitz” is the German word for lightning, this event is about speed as well as efficiency.

These high-energy events are designed to bring together biologists, conservationists, hikers, naturalists, park goers and nature enthusiasts alike, so anyone can get involved. No expertise required… This is an opportunity to learn, explore and share all the incredible species that call our parks home. The best part is, when people spread out to tackle a larger area, the chances are better that someone will find something completely unexpected.

A view of the grasslands at Knox Farm.

The team assigned to identify plant species goes to work. (Photo Credit – Claudia Rosen)

The stage set, so began the first ever Knox Farm State Park BioBlitz on the sunny weekend of August 22-23. Six field teams, each led by an expert, went on a search to survey targeted taxa such as birds, mammals, reptiles/amphibians, plants, invertebrates, and fungi. Guided hikes were led for each field team so participants could learn and share from other team members. BioBlitzers also had the option to tackle an assigned territory alone to help cover more of the park.

Eyes on the sky as the bird survey team identifies their targets. (Photo Credit – Claudia Rosen)

A light is used on a sheet to attract moths to be surveyed. (Photo Credit – Claudia Rosen)

With keen eyes, the group found and documented more than 400 species! This was well above the expected number given the tight deadline. In total, our community scientists recorded 179 species of plants, 164 invertebrate species, 49 species of fungi and lichen, 39 species of birds, six species of mammals, five reptile and amphibian species, and two species of fish.

One highlight was the discovery of a new species of butterfly for the park, the Harvester. An uncommon species, the Harvester butterfly has the distinction of having the only carnivorous caterpillar in NorthAmerica, feeding on the woolly aphids of beech and alder trees, making it a great discovery indeed.

The Harvester butterfly, which has the only carnivorous caterpillar species in North America.

Findings ranged from many common species like painted turtle, red-tailed hawk, New York fern, and turkey-tail fungus, to obscure and oddly-named insects like the sword-bearing conehead, pigeon tremex horntail and hedgehog gall wasp.

The data gathered during our BioBlitz will be incorporated in our Parks biota databases, which can be used for determining park conservation and management decisions.

For those interested in learning more about the BioBlitz, check out the Knox Farm State Park BioBlitz event page and explore all of the incredible discoveries for yourself. Don’t forget, while this BioBlitz was an organized group event, you can have your own personal BioBlitz whenever and wherever you’d like. You can even have a BioBlitz in your own backyard! This is a great way to learn about local nature and discover the incredible diversity we have in our own neighborhoods.

Remember, before surveying any land you do not own, be sure to contact the landowner for permission, and make sure to have any necessary permits needed to collect specimens. Many bioblitzes rely solely on photographic records, and having smart phone or tablet can make record-keeping easier. At Knox Farm, we used the iNaturalist app.

This map shows the species sightings recorded by the BioBlitz at Knox Farm State Park.

For more information on having your own BioBlitz, check out this 10 steps to BioBlitz guide.

For those interested in learning more about Knox Farm State Park, which is located about 20 miles southeast of Buffalo in Erie county, there are year-round guided hikes are offered through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office. To help find your way around on your own, click HERE for a map.

See you at the next BioBlitz!


Cover Shot- BioBlitz participants practice COVID safety protocols.

Post by Matthew Nusstein, Environmental Educator – Niagara Region of New York State Parks

Learn about previous BioBlitzes at New York State Parks…

BioBlitz results!

On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the … Continue reading BioBlitz results!

Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz

1 Park 70 professional scientific volunteers 365 acres Countless plants and animals Well, maybe not countless… In fact, on May 3rd and 4th nearly 70 volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Clark Reservation State Park with one goal in mind: spend 24 hours searching for all the plants, animals, fungi, lichen, and even bacteria found … Continue reading Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz

Swans: Natives and Invasives

Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. Photo by NYS Parks
Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. (Photo Credit- State Parks)

Mute swans are large, impressive birds that many people are delighted to see in public water bodies and in New York State Parks.

However, many people are unaware that mute swans are a non-native species which can create negative impacts in our parks. Mute swans (Cygnus olor) were introduced to the U.S. from Europe during the late 1800s and early 1900s as decorative accessories to zoos, parks, and private estates.

In New York State, Mute swans were particularly popular on private estates on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. Many of these pet swans escaped from captivity or were intentionally released into the wild. Since their introduction, wild mute swans have successfully expanded their habitat to the extent that it is now a source of concern for natural resource managers

Environmental Impacts: What do we have against swans, anyway?


Mute swans are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their large territories against other birds—including native waterfowl. This hurts our native bird populations by limiting their access to feeding areas and potential nesting sites. Mute swans may also act aggressively towards humans who walk, swim, or boat too close to their nesting sites.

Besides being physically threatening, mute swans place a greater strain on the aquatic habitats where they feed. Their long necks reach a greater number of underwater plants than other birds’. Besides eating aquatic plants, mute swans tend to uproot much of the aquatic vegetation where they feed, which would otherwise provide food and shelter for native waterfowl species, fish and other organisms.

Tundra swans, photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service
Tundra swans (Photo Credit- Terry Spivey, U.S. Forest Service)

Tundra Swan

The tundra swan is one of two native swan species in New York State (the other is the trumpeter swan, see below). A graceful tundra swan is an incredible sight for bird lovers. The average tundra swan has wingspan stretching just over five feet. While the tundra swan is the smallest swan species observed in New York State, averaging more than 14 pounds, they are still larger than a Canada Goose. While Tundra Swans are similar in size and coloring to trumpeter swans, their voice is distinctly different. Listen for their clear hooting, which sounds like klooo or kwooo.

They typically feed on shellfish, aquatic plants, and occasionally grains. While tundra swans spend most of the breeding season in the Arctic, where nesting and hatching takes place, these strong birds migrate southwards annually and frequently rest, feed, and eat in New York State Parks.

Trumpeter swans, photo by USFWS
Trumpeter swans (Photo Credit- USFWS)

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are the largest of the North American waterfowl, weighing as average 23 pounds. Their call is a gentle nasal honk, lower in tone than the tundra swan. The trumpeter swan was almost rendered extinct by the high demand for swan feathers for use as quill pens throughout the 1600s-1800s. Trumpeter swans have successfully rebounded and they are relatively common in North America today, but they continue to be rare in New York. Providing and protecting suitable nesting habitat could be key to helping New York trumpeter swan populations grow.

Population control

In a few places where the mute swan population is particularly high, State Parks is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Wildlife Services to manage population growth and protect aquatic species and habitats in State Parks. In order to do so most effectively, State Parks is utilizing an integrated, multi-pronged approach:

  • Public Education: Many people value the presence of mute swans, but are often unaware that they are an invasive species which can negatively impact the ecology of parks. Educating the public is key to managing wildlife and promoting ecosystem health.
  • No Feeding Policy: All State Parks have a strict no-feeding policy for all wildlife. Feeding wildlife can be harmful to them and set up dangerous situations for people.
  • Habitat modification: Like Canada geese, mute swans seek out grassy lawns and open areas adjacent to water bodies. By allowing shoreline vegetation to grow taller, or by installing fencing, we can make it more difficult for mute swans to travel from water to land — therefore making park facilities less attractive habitats.
  • Nest and Egg Treatment: Oil blocks the exchange of oxygen through the shell and prevents young birds from hatching. Following the guidelines set by the Humane Society, parks’ staff always perform a float test before treating eggs. If an egg floats, it means that an air sac has formed and a chick has begun developing. By oiling swan eggs early in the season before chicks have begun developing, State Parks staff and partners are able to prevent halt swan reproduction. This process helps reduce the local population over time. A permit is required to disturb any swan nest or eggs on park or private property.
  • Population Control: In order to protect endangered or threatened plants as well as significant natural communities in or near State Parks boundaries, lethal methods may be used to manage mute swan populations. As in all cases of animal control, lethal measures are only considered as a last resort.