When the first swans came to Falmouth in 1955, there was great excitement. The Enterprise recorded the precise date. On May 12 six swans landed on Salt Pond. The following month a pair was seen nesting in a secluded area. Their cygnets would be the first to be born in the wild in Massachusetts.
Mute swans, which are now more than prevalent in our estuaries, are a European bird. Big estates in England often raised large flocks. They were brought to the United States as decorations in parks. Eventually some escaped. That was likely the case of the Falmouth swans. Matt Souza, who was game warden at the time, noted that two of the six swans were banded. That and the fact that they were unafraid of the large number of gawkers and photographers suggested that they were once tame.
Over the first decade after their arrival in Falmouth, they were the subject of many news stories as they traveled from pond to pond. New arrivals were noted. So were newly hatched cygnets. “No royal babies ever had more attentive gallery than the fuzzy gray cygnets which appeared yesterday at the swan’s nest in the marsh between Oyster Pond road and the railroad,” The Enterprise reported in 1962.
Their numbers grew, and before long the honeymoon was over.
A swan attacked a 3-year-old and gashed her head severely enough that she had to be stitched up. Another swan flew into a power line and caused an outage. Foul odors at Salt Pond were attributed to the swans pulling up plants by the roots and leaving the stems to rot.
Game warden Souza grew concerned. One spring he raided the swans’ nests and took the eggs, replacing them with duck or goose eggs. There was, predictably, a backlash. Some accused him of scheming to increase the duck population for the benefit of hunters. To anyone who knew Mr. Souza, that was absurd; by 1965 there were 56 swans in town, and that was too many.
There are many more than that today.
Swans are beautiful creatures; there can be no argument about that. But they are causing problems. Their droppings, which is too delicate a term for what they do, are fouling the water of Green Pond, where they have been congregating. That has been blamed on people feeding them and other waterfowl, but they will congregate elsewhere if a stop is put to the practice.
At some point it will be time to manage the swan population, as Matt Souza did in the 1960s. We don’t expect that will happen soon; swans are still too popular and regal for that idea to gain traction.