Area management biologist Phil Mooney says the department regularly hears from people wondering if it’s all right to feed the swans that stop in at Swan Lake downtown. Mooney says the department officially discourages the feeding of any wild animal, but he understands that people are drawn to the huge trumpeters, and the birds – though wild – have also adapted to being fed.
The swans that visit Sitka are wild, and can fend for themselves. For a beautiful look at the swans in the Starrigavan Valley, check out this film from Sitkan Adam Andis.
The problem? The swans are receiving too much food that is not compatible with their wild diets. Bread, chips, cakes, cookies, and other processed foods are all tasty to people, but swans – especially juveniles – cannot tolerate sugar, starches, and fats in these forms.
Juvenile swans start out feeding on macro-invertebrates, and then graduate to aquatic plants. Mooney says that late-hatching swans may not have fully adapted to this change by the time they arrive on the lake. Giving them the wrong food at this point may be harmful.
Mooney advises people who want to feed the swans to think about dark lettuces, spinach, and alfalfa sprouts. Chopped celery, carrots, or potatoes are fine, as are grains like whole oats, brown rice, lentils, split peas, and cracked corn – which is available at the local pet store.
And while it’s not illegal to feed the swans, it is against the law to harass them or the other waterfowl on the lake. That means keeping dogs out of the immediate area. Mooney also recommends giving the swans room to feed without stress. He says if you want a good closeup photo, use a telephoto lens.