Estonian campaigners save winter-hit swans

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Around 400 swans which got caught in Estonia's harsh winter after skipping their annual flight south because residents fed them too often have been helped to survive by campaigners.

"While around 150 swans perished last winter on Tallinn Bay, nearly all of the 400 swans who stayed this winter are well," Tania Selart, a board member of Estonia's Society for the Protection of Animals, told AFP on Wednesday.

Selart said that a combination of milder winters in recent years and the actions of wrongheaded bird-lovers had encouraged swans to stick around in the Baltic state instead of migrating south to warmer climes.

"Unlike this winter and the last one, several previous seasons were milder and it wasn't hard for swans to stay in the north and still get food on the sea, which didn't ice over completely," Selart said.

"But the main reason that has been confusing swans is human error. In recent autumns, when swans are supposed to fly south, people have enjoyed coming to the bay to feed them," she added.

That has caused a radical change in the birds' habits, she explained.

"The tradition of Tallinners spoiling swans with food has led to a new tradition among a new swan generation, unlike their parents many of them stay here in the north," she said.

The problem, she underlined, is that the swan-feeders tend to stay away when temperatures plunged to minus 20 Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit), exactly when the swans can't feed on an ice-free sea.

The Society for the Protection of Animals launched a campaign calling on the public to stop feeding swans in the autumn, summer and spring. In the winter, if the sea is frozen, the swans should be fed with grain but never bread, it said.

Last week, the society asked the public to stop feeding the swans again because spring appeared to have arrived, but a new cold snap this week meant the feeding programme started again.

According to ornithologists, around 10,000 swans have spent recent winters in Estonia.

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