Queen Elizabeth's gift of two mute swans from her royal flock enjoyed by Lakeland to this day

·4 min read

Soon after her 70-year reign began, Queen Elizabeth II donated two mute swans to Lakeland. It's a gift that has kept on giving over the decades but has been marked by tragedy.

Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday at age 96, donated the swans to the community in Central Florida just five years after she became queen at the age of 25.

The swans arrived to Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland on Feb. 8, 1957. Their descendants in the intervening years have become the iconic image of Lakeland.

There were swans in Lakeland in early 1900s

Swans are commonly found in the Northeast and Midwest. Their migration to Florida came from seasonal residents who wanted to have swans as pets on or near their winter homes, according to city of Lakeland.

By 1926, there were 20 swans and Lakeland established the Swan Department to oversee their care.

While swans can live for 20 to 30 years, over the decades, they fell prey to alligators, dogs, diseases, chemicals and interactions with humans. By 1954, the last swan passed away.

Efforts to raise funds to bring more swans to the area failed. That's when a Lakeland resident living in England approached Queen Elizabeth II, who also has the title of Seigneur of Swans.

The queen responded to the request and donated a mated pair of swans from her royal flock, if the city could cover the $300 cost of wrangling, transportation and licensing. That fee was paid by a good Samaritan after fundraising efforts fell short.

Swans arrive in Lakeland but tragedy strikes

After officials greeted the swans at Drane Field Airport, which is now Lakeland Linder International Airport, on Feb. 8, 1957, a motorcade transported them to Lake Morton.

The next day, only the female was on the lake. Their wings had not been clipped.

Citizens and the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission scoured the area and swan sightings poured in.

It took a few days, but the male was found and returned. This time, wings were clipped to prevent further sightseeing.

But tragedy struck when the male swan was fatally injured. The female was taken to a Florida swannery, where she "selected a commoner" as her mate, according to the city.

The following spring, cygnets arrived and Lakeland's swan population has been growing ever since.

Lakeland's swan roundup provides annual health check, occasional sale

As the flock has grown, a swan roundup was begun in 1980 to give the royal birds an annual health checkup.

The city tries to keep the population close to 50 swans. In 2021, they caught close to 55 swans. After 84 swans were caught in 2020, a swan sale was held.

Once the swans complete their medical exam, they are released back into Lake Morton.

Five things to know about mute swans

  • Mute swans are very large waterfowl with heavy bodies, short legs and long slender necks usually held in a graceful S.

  • Mute swans are entirely white, with an orange bill with a black base.

  • These swans spend most of their time on the water, feeding by grazing on underwater vegetation in shallow water. They can be very aggressive, warning intruders — including kayakers and pedestrians — by swimming toward them with their wings half raised.

  • They can be found in bodies of water in city parks, as well as rivers, lakes and estuaries.

  • Mute swans are not native to North America. They were first brought from Europe as a decorative addition to parks and estates, according to Audubon.

Source: The Cornell Lab

Mute swans do make noise

Contrary to what their name seems to imply, mute swans aren't mute, but they are quieter than native swan species.

When defending their territory or nests, mute swans can make hoarse, muffled trumpet or bugle calls. They also can make an explosive snorting or hissing sound.

Mates greet each other with sounds and mother swans call to their broods with a sound like a yapping puppy.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Lakeland FL royal swans: Queen Elizabeth donated 2 to Florida