Florida city sells swans after Queen’s gift leads to overpopulation

A Florida city is selling dozens of its beloved swans to the public, after birds donated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 led to overpopulation.

Swans have lived in Lakeland, Florida, since at least 1923, according to the city, but by 1953 had all been eaten by alligators or fallen prey to dogs.

A Lakeland woman who was living in England at the time wrote to the Queen to ask for a gift of swans.

The given pair bred, and now 36 mute white swans are being sold.

The city, which has a swan as its symbol, did a “wellness check” on their entire flock prior to the sale. Proceeds of the sale will go towards their $10,000 (£7,700) annual feeding budget.

In addition to mute swans, black swans also reside at Lake Morton
In addition to mute swans, black swans also reside at Lake Morton

“It’ll be hard to say goodbye,” Parks and Recreation Supervisor Steve Platt, who is known as “The Swanfather”, told the Lakeland Ledger newspaper.

The swans all live around Lake Morton in the city of 112,000 people, about 35 miles east of Tampa.

The city is charging $400 per swan. The buyers were chosen via raffle, and were contacted on Friday to arrange for pick up.

A Lakeland sculpture of a swan
The city of Lakeland uses a swan as its official logo

What is the history of the swans?

According to historians, a woman who was living in England while her husband was stationed there for the US Air Force, wrote to Buckingham Palace asking the Queen for a donation from her royal flock.

She agreed, as long as the Floridians raised the $300 to capture and safely import the breeding pair. While awaiting transport, a barge sank in London’s Thames River, covering the pair in oil and delaying their journey.

After they were cleaned off, they were successfully delivered to Lakeland on 9 February 1957. But within a week, the pair had gone missing, triggering a frantic helicopter search before they were safely rediscovered.

There have been other swan sales previously held in 2014 and 2011. Anyone who lives near a fresh body of water is welcome to apply for the lottery, officials add.

Most swans in Britain are technically property of the monarchy. Until 1998 it was considered treasonous to kill one. One of the Queen’s royal titles – in addition to Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith and Commander in Chief of the British Armed Forces – is Seigneur of the Swans.

Mute swans, which are the type being sold, are identified by their “deep red bill and jet black feet”, the city said, and are those descended from the Queen’s royal flock.

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