LAKELAND, FL (February 4, 2022) – As Queen Elizabeth II gets ready to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee in serving the throne of England for seven decades, the City’s swans will be celebrating their Blue Sapphire Jubilee. February 8th will mark the 65th Anniversary of Lakeland’s royal swans arriving on Lake Morton. On this day in 1957, the two swans gifted by Queen Elizabeth II arrived on Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland. Since that time, Lakeland’s swans have become iconic figures in the community. It is almost a rite of passage for families to visit Lake Morton to feed our beloved swans. Swans can be found in freshwater lakes, ponds, and estuaries primarily in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. Their early migration to Florida came from seasonal residents wanting to have swans as pets on or near their winter homes. By 1926, Lakeland had a swan population of 20 and the City established a Swan Department to help oversee their care.
Residents and visitors alike enjoyed watching these beautiful birds gliding on several lakes that included Beulah, Bonny, Hollingsworth, Hunter, Mirror, Wire and especially Lake Morton. Swans can live for 20 to 30 years, and through the decades many birds had become victims of prey to alligators, dogs, diseases, chemicals, and interactions with humans. Unfortunately, by 1954 the last swan passed, and Lakeland was left swan less. Lakeland’s swan saga did not go unnoticed. The community came together to raise funds to purchase new swans but to no avail. A former Lakeland resident who had been living in England decided to take the matter to none other than Queen Elizabeth II. One of the Queen’s lesser-known titles is Seigneur of Swans as the Queen, and the royal family are inherent owners of all British swans since the middle ages. The Queen responded to the request by donating a mated pair of swans from her royal flock. Lakeland would need to cover the costs of wrangling, transportation and licensing which totaled $300. The total fee was paid by a good Samaritan after fundraising efforts fell short.
To make their trip across the big pond, the swans had to be taken from their roost along the Thames River outside of London. Unfortunately, an oil barge sank and contaminated the royal flock including the two swans bound for Lakeland. The process to restore the oil-soaked birds to good health took over five months. The flight arrangements were all reworked and their final leg of the journey was a two week impound in New Jersey.On February 8, 1957, the swans eventually arrived by Riddle Airlines from Clifton, New Jersey. They were met at Drane Field Airport (now Lakeland Linder International Airport) by the Mayor, City Manager, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce. The entourage traveled by motorcade to Lake Morton where the community crowded to see the royal swans released on Lake Morton.
After the pomp and circumstance, imagine everyone’s surprise when the following day the female was gracefully floating on the lake alone. At the time, the wings of the birds were not clipped and apparently no one thought the swans would fly away from their new surroundings. Agents of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission along with a band of volunteer citizens took to canoes, boats, and even helicopters in hopes of a quick retrieval. The local media and City Hall was flooded with calls of swan sightings as the community stood on watch. After a few days the lonely female swan was joined by the captured male who had done a little sightseeing. With wings clipped, the two were noted by the newspaper to be “floating in the middle of Lake Morton as they should be.” Citizens soon began to watch for signs of nest building. Unfortunately, tragedy struck, and the male swan was fatally injured. The widow was eventually taken to a Florida swannery where she selected a commoner as her mate. The following spring cygnets arrived, and Lakeland’s swan population has continued to grow into what it is today. For more information, please visit our swan story board that provides newspaper clippings and photos of that special day when Lakeland’s royal gift arrived at bit.ly/34gKUkX.