LAKELAND, Fla. — It’s a tradition 41 years in the making, and as the seasons begin to change, you can count on one Florida community to flock to an area lake and care for their royal waterfowl.
Once donated by the Queen of England, swans are rounded up every fall in Lakeland for their annual wellness check-ups.
"Weather does play a part," said Kevin Cook with the City of Lakeland. "We typically wait until October because the weather starts to get cooler."
The season plays a part, too. Swans typically start their nesting season in spring. Amanda Downey, patient advocate and resident "swan mom" at My Pet’s Animal Hospital in Lakeland said some of the city's swans come from Australia, and it's spring there.
"This is just before they start nesting at some points, and so it's a little easier, so we can get a good check on most of them before they start laying eggs," Downey said.
On Tuesday, parks’ employees carefully gathered their more than 80 swans in large holding pens on Lake Morton to prepare them for their veterinary check-up and closely monitor the health and vitality of the population.
Cook said it’s significant to perform this round-up this time of year because most signets are on the lake, and officials are not disturbing any nesting habits.
"The Lake Morton swans are a community icon, and families have been interacting with the birds for decades," said Parks Director Bob Donahay. "It is very important to us to make sure our Lakeland flock is doing well, so we schedule the swan roundup each year with the primary purpose to check on the health of our birds."
The first set of swans were a gift to the City of Lakeland from Queen Elizabeth II after World War II.
"Our birds have lineage dating back to the Queen’s Royal Flock," Cook said.
As the city’s swan flock grew, giving the birds an annual health check became vital. Since 1980, it has continued every year.
There are four different species of swans in Lakeland:
- Mute white swans
- Australian black swans
- Merle Swan
- South American black neck swans
- Coscorba swans from the Falkland Islands
Records in England show swans’ longevity at 44 years. In Florida, the oldest bird recorded by Lakeland is 20 years old.