Traverse City Record-Eagle

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October 3, 2012

Hurt bird draws sympathy

TRAVERSE CITY — A swan that makes its home in Grand Traverse Bay is struggling with a fishing lure snagged between its eyes, and one local boater wants to help the fowl-hooked bird.

The swan paddled by Jim Chester's boat near Elmwood Township's Marina on Monday. A hook pierced its head and a lure and segment of line dangled from its face, making it tough for the big bird to eat, Chester said.

"This swan has a fishing lure treble hook hooked between its eyes," Chester said. "There is about a foot of fishing line attached to the lure, which hangs down over the swan's beak and interferes with feeding."

Chester doesn't dare try to help the bird, given its impressive size.

"I'm not going to stick my hand anywhere near an adult swan unless I have their permission," Chester said.

The bird is a mute swan, a non-native, invasive species in Michigan. Ed Golder, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the DNR usually doesn't get involved with wildlife-in-distress calls regardless of the type of bird.

The DNR warns people to be careful of mute swans because they are "one of the world's most aggressive waterfowl species" and "have little fear of humans."

It's not known how the bird got hooked, but it's not the first swan to run afoul of humans on Grand Traverse Bay. On the July 4, 2011 weekend, a man on a personal watercraft beat a mute swan to death. That person never was identified, despite a $2,500 reward in the case.

Andy Knott, executive director of the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, said something needs to be done to help the snagged swan.

"I think any suffering animal deserves some action to relieve the suffering," Knott said. "It needs to be done by a wildlife professional — someone who knows what they are doing."

Northern Michigan wildlife experts said the swan can be saved, but it won't be easy.

"If it can fly and get out on the water, they are nearly impossible to catch," said Rebecca Lessard, who runs the Empire-based bird rescue operation Wings of Wonder.

Lessard said rescuers would have to wait until the bird is too weak to fly to capture it or follow it to its night-time hiding spot.

"They can catch it at night because it can't see at night," Lessard said.

"You can be slapped silly from their wings," she warned. "They can bite, and they could cause some abrasive injuries. People can get together and form a swan posse and rescue it. You could corral it with boats. The problem is this bird can fly."

Lessard said the incident demonstrates the impact fishing can have on wildlife. She urged fishermen to be more cautious about the lures they leave behind and to abandon the use of lead lures, which can poison birds.

"It's a little more expensive up front but it's a lot less expensive to our environment," she said.

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