'Swan Lady' helps Lake Eola flock spread wings

Patty Pekins leads small group dedicated to caring for iconic birds

ORLANDO, Fla. – Patty Pekins, Lake Eola docent, or guide, is this week's News 6 Getting Results Award winner.

Pekins and seven other volunteers walk the park every day as part of the Swan Habitat Field Team. The group keeps an eye on the 52 swans that call Lake Eola home. They monitor everything from nesting conditions to health. It's a responsibility she's enjoyed for 13 years.

"They're just so beautiful," Pekins said. "And they all make their own little sounds, especially when the eggs start hatching. They're so cute."

Pekins stops by the downtown Orlando park just about every day. She said the birds have learned her voice and respond when she calls. News 6 was there as Pekins approached a group of the large birds resting in the shade. 

"I bring lettuce every time I come," said Patty, adding that people shouldn't feed them bread or popcorn.

Pekins pulled a large leaf of romaine from her bag and held her hand out. A large mute swan stretched its neck and grabbed the leaf, tearing it in two. 

"When I run out of lettuce, they don't care about me any more," she said.  

Pekins, a retired teacher, said she read about the program in the paper and decided she'd give it a try. Now, she's the lead volunteer.

"We have five breeds and they're all a little different," she said, describing how each one looks and sounds.

She added that some of the swans are very territorial and will hiss at you. 

Pekins' commitment to the program has earned her praise form city officials.

"We call her the lead bird brain," Orlando District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan laughed. "They're the symbol of our city, and we want to make sure they're well taken care of, and that's what Patty does."

Park Manager Quincy Richardson said Pekins and the volunteers play an important role for the city.

"The swans are a centerpiece of the park. We have the fountain, and we have the swans." Richardson said. "People enjoy feeding them, taking pictures of them, and we have artists who draw them and our fountain." 

Richardson said any issues with the swans go to Pekins.

"We love her. She's an asset for sure," he said.

Pekins said she will continue volunteering as long as she can.

"They call me the Swan Lady," she said. "Everybody knows I come down to the lake and take care of the swans."


About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.