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Mysterious black swans spotted in Santa Barbara Harbor

Gretchen Lieff, Board Member with Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network
Gretchen Lieff, Board Member with Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network
Gretchen Lieff, Board Member with Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Something peculiar showed up at the Santa Barbara Harbor this weekend, and it has many residents and wildlife experts scratching their heads.

A group of five black swans with bright red bills have been seen gliding past boats, docks and kayakers in the harbor since Friday.

While their appearance alone is striking, many residents and organizations are left baffled as to where the birds came from.

"The only reason they would be seen here is if a bird escaped from captivity—they are often kept as pets in ornamental lakes," said Rebecca Coulter with Santa Barbara Audubon.

Local wildlife experts explained that these swans are not normally seen in North America. In fact, according to SeaWorld, the birds are native to Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.

"They have been known to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles from their native Australia, New Zealand area," said Jim Hurnblad, volunteer rescuer with Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. "Most birds that are kept captive have a band on their leg to note that they're permitted to be here and not wild, and I didn't see a band on their legs when I spotted them on Friday."

Captain Harvey Banick from Santa Barbara was the first to send us photos and videos of the swans after he spotted them swimming behind his boat in Marina 1. He said he's been at the harbor for 50 years and has never seen a black swan in the area.

One place Santa Barbara residents may have seen a similar bird is the Santa Barbara Zoo. Black swans can be seen floating along a pond near the front entrance to the park, however, the zoo has not reported any missing swans since these sightings.

"History kind of dictates the British had some of them on their grounds, it could be that. Now that Prince Harry and Miss Markle have moved into Montecito, maybe they received the birds as a gift, we don't know," speculated Hurnblad.

He said the Wildlife Care Network has been working with authorities like CA Fish and Wildlife to determine the next steps for the swans. He hopes to be able to get the birds in the right place as soon as possible. Until that happens, however, Hurnblad said everyone should keep their distance from the swans and make sure not to feed them.

"They eat algae and grasses in the water. There is algae in the harbor because of the boats that don't move much and have a build-up of algae. In a crunch, they can tolerate it, but it's not good for them long term because it's not their normal, they like freshwater," explained Hurnblad.

But as spectacular as this sighting might be, it's not quite as rare as it sounds.

Similar black swan sightings have been reported along Southern California over the past two years, including in Orange County and Newport Beach.

The OC Reigster credited the appearance of their black swans to the offspring of swans originally purchased by the Lake Forest Keys community. But other cities that have reported the sightings are left baffled.

Along with their inky black feathers, it's only fitting that these birds have brought their air of mystery to the Santa Barbara coast.

And according to Hurnblad, that mystery may not be solved for a long while.

Article Topic Follows: Animals

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Jessica Brest

Jessica Brest is a digital journalist and assignment editor for NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Jessica, click here.


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