The True Story of the Stanley Park Swans

  • 6

The True Story of the Stanley Park Swans

If you’ve spent any time at the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, you’ve almost definitely seen the Mute Swans.  They are large, strikingly lovely birds, and certainly one of the most memorable and defining aspects of the lagoon.

Did you know, however, that they aren’t a native species to the Park or even to the continent?  Mute Swans actually come from Europe and Asia.  To prevent the birds from spreading and becoming an invasive species, their wings are clipped:

The swans are pinioned (wing tendons clipped) to keep this introduced species from spreading to other parts of the province.  Unlike clipped wings, it is a permanent surgery.  Some may find this cruel but it is the only way to ensure that a non-native species does not spread.  (Stanley Park Ecology Society)

That’s right, the swans cannot fly, and never will.  They are essentially captives–living decorations for visitors to the park to enjoy. Yes, some DO find this cruel.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most people would.  I know that I’ll never forget the day that I saw one of the swans desperately struggling to take off from the water.  Destroying the birds’ wings did not destroy their desire to fly.

The fact that the swans are denied their right to fly is  only one problem associated with their damaged wings, actually.  The birds are injured–or more often, killed–with surprising frequency, generally because they can only escape danger by staying on the Lagoon.  They cannot take to the air.  Despite warnings posted throughout the area, people very often unleash their dogs and allow them to run around freely.  I suspect that these are the same people who take their dogs, unleashed, for walks throughout our busy city, foolishly assuming that they know well enough how the dogs will react in every single situation.  The swans, who are very slow on land, cannot escape when a dog decides to express its natural instincts and attack.  It happens all the time.

Wild animals, like raccoons and coyotes, have also attacked the birds, and so have humans.  A few years ago, some idiot threw a large rock at a mother swan on her nest, breaking her leg.  Another swan and her babies were intentionally doused with oil.  (Two of the three cygnets died as a result.)  People who, again, ignore signs, have killed swans by riding their bikes too quickly on paths around the lagoon.

Right now there are close to 10 swans living on the lagoon, and even the park admits that this is too many:

There are also, technically, too many swans on the Lagoon.  In the wild, only one pair would inhabit a lake this size… (SPES)

Let there be no misunderstanding here: I love Stanley Park, and I love the Lost Lagoon.  I think it’s one of the best places in our wonderful city.  But the swans should be considered an embarrassment to the otherwise fantastic park.  It’s not as if we’re lacking for wildlife–the park and lagoon are home to literally hundreds of species of animals, including Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles.  With such fascinating creatures living and flourishing freely in the park, why do we need captive swans?

Learn more from Stanley Park Swans.  The author is clearly in favour of the swans being in the lagoon, but the website is otherwise a great resource.



May 26, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for this post. How did the first swans get here? I assume someone brought them here as an ornament or something–right? Criminal.


May 26, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Hi Roger. They were a gift from England in 1889, if I remember correctly. There were 4 of them.

Lagoon Walker

May 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm

It’s true that the swans should be an embarrassment. The swans are a relic from a time when animals were kept in inhumane conditions without a second thought. Elsewhere in Stanley Park are the old pits that used to contain bears on display also in inhumane conditions, back when such types of “zoos” were “normal” and not an embarrassment. But these days they would never get away with keeping bears in such conditions–as evinced by the fact that the pits are empty; the bears have long since been removed. If they can remove bears from an inhumane captivity, why can’t they remove the swans? Lost Lagoon has many regular visitors, and plenty of people are aware of the hell these swans are put through, as you described above. It’s odd that they’re still there. Meanwhile supposedly there is a “restoration” of Stanley Park’s biodiversity and “native ecology” underway. Will that include removing the swans?

The True Story of the Stanley Park Swans « Become the Voice

October 20, 2010 at 1:34 pm

[…] The True Story of the Stanley Park Swans […]

Carol Carson

March 21, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Hi Becci.. I’ve just discovered your excellent site, and recently (after seeing “Vegucated”) have cut dairy and honey out of my diet. (I had already been vegetarian for over 40 years,) The reason i write is that i promised myself when I retired that I would get on the Stanley Park swan issue and now, that time has come. Is there any plan of action that you know of to phase out the keeping of swans and to give the last remaining ones as decent and humane existence as possible until they come naturally to the end of their life? I would be interested in joining a group to tackle that one (shameful) issue. Thanks, Carol Carson

Stanley Park’s Mute Swans « Bites and Tales

March 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

[…] Anyone who has ever visited the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park has probably seen the Mute Swans that live there. They are a stunning bird, however, they are not native to out corner of the world and these particular birds had their wings (not feathers) clipped so that they remain on the lake. Below is a great article by Becci written for Liberation BC […]

Leave a Reply