February, 2014. Lakeland, Florida. The Home of the Royal Swans.

Posted on February 24, 2014

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Saturday morning at Lakeland's Farmer's Curb Market

Saturday morning at Lakeland’s Farmer’s Curb Market

It took awhile to figure out Lakeland.

The city is all sprawled out, and there are few direct routes to anywhere because there are 32 lakes within the city limits.

And that’s just the named lakes – there are many other unnamed water-filled phosphorous mining pits, and you have to circumnavigate all these bodies of water to get anywhere.

And don’t get me started on the traffic lights.

But these lakes and ponds – some large, some small – are what make the city a special place. Much of the culture of Lakeland revolves around these bodies of water and the wildlife they attract. Combine abundant waterfowl with park-like settings and throw in some 16 miles of walking/biking trails tying it all together, and you have a very pedestrian-friendly, pretty place.

While large flocks of ducks, geese, cranes, egrets, ibis, anhinga, and every other kind of waterfowl imaginable inhabit these lakes, it is the swans that have become the city’s signature.

black swan And not just any swans, but swans with a pedigree.

Lake Morton is home to the descendants of a pair of swans given to Richard the Lion-Hearted by former Queen Beatrice of Sicily in honor of Richard’s work in the Crusades.

How they got to Florida is an interesting story.

DSCN0540Lakeland’s first swans appeared in the 1920’s. Their population was regularly reduced by pets and alligators until, in 1954, the sole survivor ended up as someone’s supper.

When a former Lakeland resident living in England heard about the city’s swan-less state, she wrote to Queen Elizabeth asking for help.  Her Royal Majesty allowed the capture of two of the imperial swans, which were flown to Florida after Lakeland sent $300 to the Royal Exchequer to cover shipping costs.

Ibis, cranes and herons or all types ,anhingas, geese ,ducks, spoonbills and egrets all find a home on Lakeland's lakes

Ibis, cranes and herons of all types,anhinga, geese, ducks, spoonbills and egrets all find a home on Lakeland’s many lakes

Why Queen Elizabeth would care whether or not Lakeland had swans is unclear.

However, in the mid-1950’s the memory of World War II was still fresh in both American and British minds. Perhaps Her Royal Majesty remembered how Royal Air Force pilots were trained at Lakeland’s Lodwick School of Aeronautics.

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Lakeland’s swans today are still treated like royalty.  A swan round-up is held once a year, with the birds herded into pens to be checked by veterinarians for disease and injuries.

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Imaginatively decorated swan sculptures stand on just about every street corner downtown

Nesting birds are rigorously protected, and the alligator population is kept firmly under control so that Lakeland will never be without swans again.

 

 

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Posted in: Travel - Florida