Lakeland, whose lakes had been home to a varying number of graceful birds since at least 1923, saw its last swan fall victim to an alligator in 1954. Mrs. Robert Pickhardt, a Lakeland native living in England at the time, was familiar with the royal flock of swans on the Thames – birds descended from the original pair given to Richard, he of the lion heart. She inquired about purchasing a pair for Lakeland. Queen Elizabeth, known to be a little tight with a farthing, agreed to send a pair of swans to Lakeland if the city would pay the cost of capture, crating, and shipping, estimated at $300.

Eventually the money was raised and a pair of White Mute Swans from England were released on Lake Morton on February 9, 1957. Descendants of that pair continue to grace the city’s many lakes; today there are more than 200 birds, including White Mutes, Australian Black Swans, White Coscorba Swans from the Falkland Islands, Black Neck Swans from South America, white pelicans, ducks, geese, and other species.

Lakeland has learned its lesson and is very protective of its swans now. There is an annual swan round-up, at which time the graceful birds are inoculated against disease, and the city provides feeding stations and breeding pens along Lake Morton’s perimeter. The swan is now the city’s official logo.

A good place to view the swans of Lake Morton is at the corner of Lake Morton Drive and East Palmetto Avenue, near the Lakeland Library. If you are driving, be careful, the swans have the right of way.

Reprinted from the book – Florida Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff by David Grimes & Tom Becnel