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West Van's lone surviving Ambleside Pond swan captured and sent to refuge

Survivor believed to be female of bonded pair, whose mate disappeared from park last week

UPDATE: Feb. 19

The lone surviving royal mute swan from Ambleside Pond has been captured.

District of West Vancouver parks staff noticed one of their swans disappeared last week, presumably having falling victim to a predator. Its mate immediately left the pond in search of its other half. Since then, municipality has been inundated with calls and emails from residents who have spotted the swan from the Capilano River all the way west along the shoreline to Dundarave.

Parks staff and a wildlife expert launched an inflatable dinghy at John Lawson Pier early Friday morning and corralled the errant bird back to shore where they were able to get it into a crate without incident.

Based on a bump on the swan’s beak, they believe it may be the female of the bonded pair.

“The swan didn’t seem too concerned to be captured,” said Donna Powers, district spokeswoman. “She appeared, at first glance, healthy and actually not that stressed out because as soon as she was put in a crate, she sat down and started preening herself, which is a sign of a calm bird, according to the experts.”

That was a big improvement over their last attempt on Thursday, Powers said, when the swan was “decidedly unfriendly and antagonistic.”

“I think that the words they used to describe it were ‘Definitely feral, not at all tame,’” she said.

The bird has since been transferred to Whonnock Water Fowl, a Maple Ridge business that rehomes the invasive species to buyers who have the proper aviculture permit from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

They will have her examined by a veterinarian and determine what happens next.

Powers said that may include making an introduction with a potential new mate, although the notoriously territorial animals may prefer to stay single. And she may or may not be returned to Ambleside.

“We're going to take the time to figure out what's best for her,” Powers said. “It's the best possible outcome in the situation.”

Exactly what happened to the male is something of a mystery. The absence of a carcass or any sign of a struggle is odd, given that is almost the case with predation.

“Usually when a predator takes a bird, there’s feathers all over the place,” said Dave Rempel, owner of Whonnock Water Fowl.

It was Rempel who sold the swans to the District of West Vancouver about 10 to 12 years ago. He estimates they are about 13 or 14 years old. In captivity, they can live up to 40 years but, Rempel said, Swans are always at risk of predation without serious protection like the electric fences and 33 inches of sheet metal he keeps his own personal flock behind.

It’s possible the male was taken by people, although there isn’t any direct evidence of that either, according to the Conservation Officer Service.

“Staff are going to continue to search diligently for any sign of remains, which is about the only thing that we can do to determine what happened,” Powers said.

A healthy, young, legally permitted swan goes for $300 to $400, although the market for them is not what it used to be, Rempel added.

“They are beautiful creatures,” he said. “But they are a lot of work.”



After decades of dazzling locals and visitors in West Vancouver, it may truly be a swan song.

One of the mute swans inhabiting the pond in Ambleside Park has disappeared and is presumed dead, and its mate may not be long for the community.

District of West Vancouver parks staff first noticed last week that one of the swans was gone and there has been no sign of it since.

“Given its age and natural predation of wildlife in the area, they just assumed it was most likely a natural death,” said district spokeswoman Donna Powers, who added that sharing the news felt like writing an obituary. “They’re beloved. People care. People care deeply about our swans.”

Swans tend to mate for life, so staff were not surprised to see the surviving waterfowl has left the pond in search of its mate. It has since been spotted on the Capilano River and on Burrard Inlet, off Ambleside beach.

The birds are synonymous with elegance and grace, probably owing to their once having been the property of the British Crown. But in Canada, they are an invasive species, and it’s only legal to keep them with an avicultural permit from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

“They're strictly regulated by the federal government, because they can be really detrimental to our native species,” Powers said.

One of the conditions of a permit is having the birds’ wings pinioned – surgically removing a joint in their wing that allows them to take flight – staff were somewhat surprised to see the remaining swan so far from the pond.

Powers said a search of municipal records did not turn up any answers as to when the district introduced the birds, but they have been there at least 20 years, which is at the upper end of their average expected lifespan in the wild.

For years, the pair have successfully bred and produced cygnets. But, swans are notoriously territorial and if their young don’t leave the pond on their own, the parents will drown them. Parks staff have corralled the cygnets every year and taken them to Whonnock Water Fowl, a Maple Ridge sanctuary where they are adopted out in accordance with federal rules.

Exactly what will happen with the remaining swan is unclear. Parks staff would like to take it to the same sanctuary the cygnets are sent to, where it may be paired with a new mate and adopted out. Or it may return to Ambleside.

But someone has to catch it first. Two rescue organizations the district has contacted have told them they don’t have the ability to capture swans, and another has told the district it is unable to help because swans are “park birds” and not wildlife.

“Our hope is that we'll find someone with the equipment and skills to capture the swan, so we can take it to the sanctuary to get it looked at by a veterinarian and assess and see what happens,” Powers said.

While it may be the end of an era for West Vancouver’s “swan lake,” the rest of Ambleside Park is likely due for some changes over the longer term following the completion of a new master plan. That work was supposed to begin in 2020 but was halted under COVID-era budget cuts. Park improvements are back under consideration for the 2021 budget but even before they can start, council must decide on the location of the municipality’s new arts facility within the park.

“Any changes to the park moving forward, we want to do in a planned and thoughtful way by having a master plan,” Powers said. “We're going to take it slow. We have to think about sea level rise. We have to think about engagement with the Squamish Nation before we do anything big.”