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Claims of swan attacks prompt town officials to take action

Date: 5/17/2011

May 16, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — When swans attack!

It's not exactly material for a new reality show, but it has been a reality for visitors of Heritage Park throughout the past several weeks.

The swans that take up residence at the park from mid-spring through the fall have been especially ornery of late, according to multiple reports.

On April 30, someone called police to report a swan had bitten a child. On May 6, resident Kissa Harrington posted on the East Longmeadow Police Department's Facebook page that a swan bit a child and an adult. A park visitor told Reminder Publications she witnessed a woman being chased by one of the animals on May 9 and two more children were attacked on May 10.

So what is making these swans so irritable?

According to Police Chief Douglas Mellis, it's because people may be knowingly or unknowingly encroaching upon their home.

"I heard from John Collins for the East Longmeadow Department of Public Works (DPW) and he reports that there is a nest with the female staying with it and it appears as [though] the male swan is being protective," Mellis said.

Because they are not a native North American species, swans are not protected by the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, which states it is unlawful to destroy, relocate or come into possession of the swans, as well as their nest and eggs, according to Dr. Thomas French, assistant director for natural heritage and endangered species for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

However, for both the safety of the birds and the community, Mellis said the DPW has put up orange snow netting around the area where the nest is believed to be and stressed that residents and visitors alike should "respect the distance" and "remain away from the nesting area."

Reminder Publications twice went to Heritage Park in hopes of seeing some form of aggressiveness firsthand.

On May 10, one swan, presumably female, was sitting in the fenced off nesting area, while the other swam around the fountain in the middle of the pond chasing geese away.

On May 12, this reporter decided to see just how close to the water one would need to get before the animals took notice.

Starting about 20 yards from the water and a considerable distance from the nesting area and periodically moving closer in both directions, the swans paid some attention to me, watching from the water any time I advanced.

It wasn't until I was mere feet from the water's edge and between 10 and 15 yards from the nesting area that the larger of the two — presumably the male — swam over, exited the water and approached with his head lowered and feathers ruffled, but did not attack.

Once the swan had backed the perceived threat to what he found to be an acceptable distance, he stood there for a moment, then returned to the water without incident.

Calls to the DPW regarding whether or not the department would establish any other measures besides fencing off the area were not returned as of press time.

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