Florida city plans swan sale to reduce overpopulation

Lakeland spends $10,000 per year feeding birds

Two swans swim in the Vltava river as sun sets in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Two swans swim in the Vltava river as sun sets in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LAKELAND, Fla. – Lakeland officials have decided saying goodbye to a few of the city’s beloved feathered friends is long overdue.

The city is planning to hold a swan sale to eliminate the birds' overpopulation of Lake Morton after the 40th Swan Roundup, set for Oct. 6, The Lakeland Ledger reports. The feathered population has rapidly swelled in recent years, leading to a wide variety of issues.

“We are really overpopulated,” Bob Donahay, Lakeland’s director of parks and recreation, said.

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Donahay said he estimates the city currently has about 80 swans. A prior study undertaken by the city found Lake Morton provides enough habitat and food for 45 to 50 birds. An accurate count will be taken during the roundup, according to Donahay, when the feathered denizens are captured for their annual wellness examinations on Oct. 7.

“It’ll be hard to say goodbye,” Steve Platt, a city grounds maintenance supervisor, said. “But we can tell just by the amount of food we are going through.”

It costs Lakeland approximately $10,000 a year to feed and care for its iconic flock. It has been roughly five to six years since the city held a swan sale, according to Platt, but this year’s event is expected to take place in November. The Ledger’s records last show a sale was held in November 2014.

The abundance of swans on Lake Morton has led to several issues over the past year or two. Platt said the city’s grounds keepers have noticed a lot of birds fighting over territory. The lack of space may have been the reason some pairs built nests in less-than-ideal locations this spring, according to Platt, including the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce lawn and off the busy intersection of South Boulevard and Lake Morton Drive.

By reducing the size of the city’s flock, Lakeland officials said they hope to see fewer of the regal birds annually struck and killed by motorists.

“We haven’t had too many incidents lately, but as traffic returns and people get busier it’s bound to happen,” Donahay said. “It’s just a matter of numbers; when you have a lot more birds it increases the chances.”

Earlier this year, two swans were struck by motorists and killed within a week at the end of February. This raised concerns about the birds' safety.

Lakeland Police Department responded by increasing patrols around Lake Mirror and Lake Morton, according to city spokesman Kevin Cook. Officers issued about 20 speeding tickets in a week.

The city’s traffic department also posted 10 new signs to remind drivers of the 20 mph speed limit around the lakes and to be vigilant of both swans and pedestrians crossing the road.

Platt said there’s a "mile-long' list of individuals who have contacted Lakeland over the years looking to purchase swans. Each of these individuals will be notified, by email or letter, about this fall’s sale, according to Platt. The city will also place advertisements.

In 2011, the city sold mute swans for $300 each, according to The Ledger’s reports. This may vary based on the species of bird and current prices. The city occasionally holds swan sales, and the funds raised usually go toward food and well-being of the remaining flock.

In the past, purchasers have ranged from private homeowners to various private businesses, Platt said.

“We’ve had people purchase a pair for a wedding venue they’ve started over the years,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of funeral homes and nursing homes.”

One thing Platt said he’s careful about is scanning each bird to ensure that those being sold are not among Lakeland’s mated pairs. The city keeps a list and matches mated pairs' microchip numbers together.

“We don’t want to cause any heartache,” he said.