The sky formed an imposing blanket of menacing gray downtown Oct. 26 as steely-eyed volunteers gathered around Lake Eola to stage a battle with nature. Orlando’s beloved swan population – which by intelligent design or an evolutionary glitch has come to call the dyed sinkhole its home – was the subject of a well-intentioned assault on its freedom.
“Y’all missed me getting crapped on,” said Orlando District 4 commissioner Patty Sheehan, whose jeans were soaked to her thighs from a day of swan-wrangling. “With this group that’s a badge of honor.”
Why all the fuss? The First Annual Veterinary Medical Exam Program, at which veterinarians will address the health concerns of the large aquatic birds and install microchips in their breasts for identification.
The day wasn’t without controversy, however. While Orlando officially purports to keep 44 of the graceful creatures fed and cared for in Lake Eola, swan experts were able to corral fewer than 20 birds in makeshift orange pens.
“I don’t know where they got 44 from,” said Shirley Bolin of the Orlando-based swan advocacy group the Regal Swan.
A clue to this mystery may be found in the fact that some of the swans cornered in one end of the lake simply took off, flying over the heads of the kayakers circling them. “Tighten up the hole!” Bolin screamed at her volunteers in an attempt to cut off escape routes.
Ultimately, there was no escape. Swans were pulled from the lake by Sheehan and other volunteers, who were careful to hold their beaks shut because swans are actually foul-tempered and have been known to bite. One swan was apparently injured while in Sheehan’s grip and required hydrogen peroxide for a small cut.
There are two swan species in Lake Eola: English mute swans and Australian black swans. They had to be kept in separate pens because, as Bolin noted, the black birds are more aggressive than the white ones.
Bolin voiced concern for the swans’ well-being, most notably fearing something she called “pink bacteria,” which actually turns the birds pink. The treatment? A good scrubbing in Dawn dish soap.
There is also the possibility that the birds could leave Lake Eola, in which case they would be considered feral by the state of Florida and (because they are not native) subject to being shot. “The state can come in, shoot ’em, and then charge you for the bullet,” said Bolin. Hence the microchips. The Regal Swan took the further precaution of clipping the birds’ wings, which is referred to as “pinioning.”
“It’s like clipping your nails,” said Bolin. “Or circumcision.”
The penned swans were also sexed, which can’t be done until a swan is at least 1 year old.
Nearby, a man viewing the goings-on offered his commentary: “I hope they’re not feeding more than 25 birds,” he said.[email protected]