One of six mute swans at Veterans Memorial Lake has died, Great Bend-Brit Spaugh Zoo Director Scott Gregory said Wednesday.
It appears that something had injured the bird’s crop – the pouch of muscle tissue near the throat that birds use to store and soften their food. It is possible the bird swallowed something too big that got caught in its throat, Gregory said. However, that is only speculation. The bird has been sent to Kansas State University for a necropsy, and more will be known once the examination is complete.
Although the swans aren’t considered part of the zoo collection, the zoo staff have been helping in this experiment that began last November. The City of Great Bend paid an Omaha, Neb., zoo $300 for six swans, hoping they could help rid the lake of geese. Terry Hoff, human resource manager for the city, said swans are very territorial and tend to be aggressive with other birds. The goose population has been a contributing factor to the high levels of blue algae that have plagued the lake.
While the remaining swans usually swim together, the one that died always tended to be more of a "loner."
Mute swans are an introduced species from Europe and have orange bills, while the trumpeter swans at the zoo are native to North America and have black bills. For a time, the Great Bend zoo also had two black swans, a species introduced from Australia, but both were eaten by great horned owls.
City and Zoo staff are still learning about the swans, Gregory said. "They’ve been pinioned so they can’t fly away," but the zoo director said he doesn’t know how long the birds will live. He does not expect them to breed because swans generally mate for life and these are not a breeding population.
Within a week of the mute swans’ arrival at Veterans Lake, some people deemed the experiment a failure because the geese seemed ambivalent to the new birds. Gregory believes that assessment is premature.
"It takes about a year for mute swans to establish territory," he said, adding they may become more aggressive toward the geese in the future. That was how they had been used in Nebraska, reportedly.
Even if the swans never drive a goose away, city staff say they’re an asset to the park.
"They’re a beautiful addition," Hoff said.
"The public loves to see them," Gregory said. "If it doesn’t work, they look great on the pond."
People have also enjoyed bringing bread to the park to feed the swans – something that’s no longer allowed at the zoo. It’s also not the best thing for the birds at Vets Park. "The park guys feed them a special diet," Gregory said.