Black Swans are native to countries like New Zealand and Australia so when a pair of the rare birds made Inch Wildfowl Reserve their home it was easy to see why locals, birdwatchers and walkers started to get excited.
Inch Wildfowl Reserve is located just a few miles away from the Derry/Donegal border and provides a safe haven for native species and migrating birds from North America, Iceland, Russia and Western Africa.
Three of the four Black Swans are believed to be escapees from private collections but one of the swans is a cygnet and is a sign that two of the birds have started to breed.
Andrew Speer is the National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Ranger for North East Donegal.
Andrew confirmed that two of the birds had bred successfully at the wildfowl reserve but said the signets usually die as a result of the cold winters.
“The black swans at Inch are native to the warmer climates of Australia and New Zealand,” said Andrew
“We have had the swans on and off now for about seven years at Inch. We presume they are escapees from private collections with at least one confirmed from a private collection which has been returned and re-escaped.
“There are a pair of swans that have bred successfully a number of times, but the resulting signets never really seem to survive our winters, although there is one surviving signet from last year’s brood still with its parents.
“At the minute there are four birds, a pair with one young and another escapee from a local private collection,” he explained.
Whilst the site of the Black Swans paddling in the water near Inch is a joy to behold, Andrew revealed that there is a possibility the birds could be interfering with the natural habitat of birds native to this part of the world.
“This situation is without doubt one of the main attractions for visitors due to the charismatic and striking appearance of the Black Swans. However, it raises a very important conservation issue, that is the impact of non-native species on our native species.
“Inch Wildfowl Reserve is part of the Lough Swilly SPA (Special Protection Area for birds), this is a EU designation on Lough Swilly mainly for Grey Geese and Whooper Swans.
“Do the black swans have an impact on the native birds at Inch? Well the answer is, possibly, yes, they do, and it’s something we are keeping a close eye on.”
Until such times that the Black Swans are having a negative impact on native species at Inch Wildfowl Reserve, Andrew’s message to people is to enjoy the sight of the birds.
“It’s one of those double-edged swords, they are great ambassadors for the site and are helping raise the profile of an interesting debate for conservation, however ultimately they don’t belong there. In the meantime people are free to enjoy their company and I am sure they will continue to be the most photographed species at Inch,” he said.