Feather in their cap: Swans return to White’s Creek

Coastal Point • Laura Walter : After four years of struggles, these two swans have finally returned home.Coastal Point • Laura Walter : After four years of struggles, these two swans have finally returned home.Two satisfying splashes hit White’s Creek on Aug. 22 when two mute swans returned home. Several happy neighbors witnessed the satisfying end to a four-year bird battle.

“It’s taken me four years to get them back,” said Susan Ritter.

After two other swans were shot by state wildlife officials in 2011 as part of an effort to remove a species declared invasive, local residents doubled down on their efforts to bring the pair back from the Assawoman Wildlife Refuge. Originally residing in White’s Creek for 14 years, they were possibly driven off when the second pair of swans took their place in a territory grab, Ritter said.

Those invading swans were shot and killed in January of 2011 as part of the “mute swan management plan” operating under the Delaware Department of Natural Resource’s (DNREC’s) Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).

Mute swans are a non-native species and were considered invasive, with the potential to drive off native species and do damage to vegetation that serves as habitat for native species.

As the Coastal Point has previously reported, Gary Clevenger had formerly resided along White’s Creek and had at some point acquired a pair of swans, which subsequently had three cygnets. They growing family was reported to DFW around 2010.

Although DNREC maintained that part of the original permit for that pair allowed DNREC to euthanize newcomers that were not banded, locals were horrified and furious.

With support from state Sen. Gerald Hocker Sr., they hounded DNREC into placing a moratorium on the killing of swans.

From there, the locals were represented by John Grandy, a top-level advisor for the Humane Society of the United States. Grandy credited DFW Director Dave Saveikis for negotiating a management plan everyone would like.

“We worked out a management plan for mute swans in Delaware, which will allow them to live in habitats where people are around” and allow the State to maintain its facilities, Grandy said. “He’s going to issue a group permit to the citizens here.”

Some of those citizens were on Clevenger’s former dock (he has since moved away) on Aug. 22, having released the birds from a penned area nearby and into the Millville creek.

“That’s exactly where they belong. This is where they come from originally,” Ritter said.

“Senator, if you hadn’t come to our first meeting and given us political strength, we would be looking at dead swans,” Grandy said to Hocker. “I’m very happy with the way it worked out.”

Ritter said these swans, marked as “DE01” (the female) and “DE02” (the male), swam back to Millville once this past winter when the water froze over, but they had remained in Assawoman otherwise.

Having been retrieved from Assawoman, they were re-acclimated to the once-familiar setting in a backyard pen for two days before slipping into the water and immediately touring the creek, where people on all sides stepped out to see the animals.

“We hope they’re going to stay,” Grandy said.

Ritter said the swans love lettuce, but people can’t get too close. After all, the swans are wild animals.