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Residents fighting to save swans in Sun City West community

Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-11 23:25:48-04

Residents in Sun City West are currently in a fight to save the swans in their community.

A group of concerned residents reached out to ABC15, saying they are frustrated after seeing so many swans being killed by desert predators.

One concerned resident, Frank Bagnato, says these swans are not able to fend for themselves because they have gone through a process known as pinioning, which is removing the pinion joint of a bird that stops the growth of the primary feathers and prevents the acceleration required for flight.

Residents are expressing concerns after seeing many of their community swans being attacked by coyotes and bobcats.

"Our swan population is decreasing. We are now down to six swans. We feel as residents of this community; we need to step up and find homes for the remaining swans. These swans cannot get away from the predators, and they cannot fend for themselves," said Bagnato.

The community just lost another swan, Ethel, a few weeks ago and since then has been fired up about the effort to save the swans. 

"The swan program which our community started about three decades ago was someone's idea of putting Christmas ornaments on our golf courses 365 days of the year. That is essentially what these birds are, ornaments," said Bagnato.

Katy O'Grady, a spokeswoman for the community of Sun City West, said the swans are well taken care of.

"We give them the best of everything. We love them as much as the people. We provide food that is of very high quality, we provide veterinarian care, we work with zoo officials to get advice and guidance, but sometimes things happen," said O'Grady.

She explained that pinioning the swans was done to keep them on the lakes.

"They're territorial birds. They can still fly 8-10 feet in the air and get away from predators, but it keeps them on the lakes so they're not bothering the residents, and not bothering the golfers," said O'Grady.

She added that staff had created nesting areas for the birds in the middle of the lake, and fenced those off during the breeding season.

"We've done what we can. They can all escape the predators, but like anywhere in nature if you don't turn your back fast enough and see it approaching, coyotes are predators. They are sneaky and they know what they're doing," said O' Grady.

Ruth Forsberg, another Sun City West resident who is behind the effort to save the swans, said she felt it was cruel and inhumane for community leaders to leave the swans as "sitting ducks" with no ability to protect themselves from desert predators.

"I think they should probably go to a sanctuary somewhere where they can live out their lives safely and not become food for the predators," said Forsberg.

O'Grady said the community had decided to wind down the swan program. This move came after six swans were killed by predators in 2014. They were now processing the swan eggs so they could not hatch.

"To say that we don't care about these animals is just not true in this case," said O'Grady. She added that the city had attempted to look for a sanctuary for the birds, but were unable to find one.

"A solution needs to be found.  We can't just leave the birds out there to fend for themselves. That is not a viable solution," said Bagnato.

ABC15 checked with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to find out what residents could do. A spokeswoman said swans were not considered wildlife since they fell under the domesticated pets category, and in this case, the community that owned the swans needed to care for them.  

The spokeswoman added they've always advocated that anyone who owns exotic birds like parrots or swans take the steps that are necessary to keep their animals safe and protected from predators.