Later this month, around 30 of the beloved swans at Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland, Florida will be for sale to the general public.
“The magic number that we try to keep our swans around is about 65, and we’re suspecting that we have got well over 80 right now,” Kevin Cook, director of communications for the city of Lakeland, told NBC News.
Cook said that swans have inhabited the lake since about 1923. However, after the last remaining swan had a run-in with an alligator in 1954, the lake was left swanless — until a concerned resident wrote to Queen Elizabeth of England asking for a donation of two of her swans.
The Queen agreed to donate a pair of her mute swans, and they arrived at Lake Morton in 1957.
Today, at least 80 mute swans reside in the densely-populated lake, raising concerns about safety. In the last two years, Cook said that seven birds on Lake Morton have been struck by vehicles. The city has previously instituted slower speeds around the lake and reconfigured the driving pattern in hopes of reducing swan deaths, but there is still the issue of limited space in the lake that is only about a mile-wide in circumference, Cook said.
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“There’s only so much real estate on the lake,” Cook said. In addition to the swans, the lake is also home to a number of ducks and geese. Cook said that there are not any threats of predators, such as alligators, in the urban area.
This coupled with the “very robust nesting season” the swans had this year has resulted in over-population, which is quite costly for the city of Lakeland. The swan feed for the park’s approximately 80 mute swans costs around $10,000 annually.
Next week is the city’s 40th Annual Swan Round Up, a tradition started in 1980 as a yearly wellness check for the birds. Local veterinarians volunteer their time to ensure that the birds are healthy.
At 9 a.m. on Oct. 29, the city of Lakeland will hold a first-come, first-serve sale of around 30 swans for $400 each. There will be a limit of four swans per person, and buyers will need to meet qualifying criteria, Cook said. The buyers will have to have a body of water and a “safe environment” for the swans.
“You can’t just go put them on a wild lake with alligators and things of that nature,” Cook said.
The city of Lakeland has held swan auctions in the past. The most recent swan sale was in 2014, and the city sold 20 swans.