The Swan Marker is a historic royal position at Buckingham Palace
The Swan Marker is a historic royal position at Buckingham Palace

Royal official slammed for bizarre wildlife advice

BUCKINGHAM Palace's swan boffin has been told to keep his beak out of the Gold Coast's business after causing an internet flap, egging people on to feed bread to wild native birds.

The controversial comments by David Barber, the Queen's official "swan marker'', have ruffled the feathers of the city's leading wildlife vet and a Gold Coast councillor, prompting them to cry fowl and urge nature lovers to ignore the bread edict.

Currumbin Wildlife Hospital chief vet Michael Pyne has warned a bread diet causes young swans and ducks to grow too fast, leading to bone deformities that leave the birds at the mercy of predators.

Mr Barber, who has held the royal role since 1993, said there was "no good reason not to feed bread to swans".

His advice went viral this week on social media in this swan-obsessed city, where the health of the local swan population and the fate of Black Swan Lake at Bundall have been in the news.

Queen Elizabeth II, pictured with Swan Marker David Barber (red jacket) on the Thames (Photo by Sang Tan — WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II, pictured with Swan Marker David Barber (red jacket) on the Thames (Photo by Sang Tan — WPA Pool/Getty Images)

But Dr Pyne fears the consequences of people trying to take the birds under their wing and feed them, warning it is "unequivocal that feeding of bread to native wildlife can only cause problems".

He said bread could cause bone deformities in young swans and ducks known as "angle wing'', which made it difficult for them to fly and put them at risk from predators.

"The high energy diet of bread causes the young birds to grow too fast, leading to the bone deformities and we regularly see swans suffering from angle wing on the Gold Coast," he said.

Dr. Michael Pyne at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital with an injured swan.
Dr. Michael Pyne at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital with an injured swan.

"Bread if fed regularly can lead to over population and subsequent overcrowding and territorial problems, particularly swans.

"Bread is often linked to a number of other health problems such as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) and clostridial enteritis."

Mr Barber’s advice has gone viral and there are fears that locals will feed bread to the Coast’s swan population.
Mr Barber’s advice has gone viral and there are fears that locals will feed bread to the Coast’s swan population.

The Queen's swan marker is an official royal role dating back to the 12th century. The holder of the title gives advice on the welfare of swans and works closely with rescue organisations.

Technically, all unmarked swans in open water in the United Kingdom belong to the Queen, although the Crown only "exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries''.

The British Royal Family have a long history with swans — Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother is pictured feeding the swans.
The British Royal Family have a long history with swans — Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother is pictured feeding the swans.

It is not the first time Mr Barber has been drawn into Gold Coast affairs. Environmentalists last year wrote to his office requesting help in preventing Bundall's Black Swan Lake from being filled in - an effort which has proved futile.

Robina councillor Hermann Vorster said Mr Barber's advice had been shared frequently on Gold Coast social media sites in recent days, sparking concerns that the birds in the city's waterways could get sick from a sudden influx of bread into their diets.

Cr Hermann Vorster.
Cr Hermann Vorster.

"My personal view is that there is no good reason to feed local native birds and those who choose to persist in feeding swans should favour cracked corn and shredded lettuce," he said.

"My understanding is this would reduce the incidence of botulism, which favours warmer weather, in local swans and would lower the nutrient load in our waterways.

"Given the virility of these social media posts, I would like local residents to do the correct thing by our local swans."



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