The first step of David Novak’s long-term plan for the Bay Isles swan family is now five-sixths of the way complete.
It took one swankeeper, one veterinarian, the Regal Swan Foundation and three volunteers — one of whom ventured out in a kayak — communicating with each other via walkie-talkie to accomplish.
But, as of 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, five of the six cygnets that hatched from swan pair Stan and Wendy’s nest in the spring were back on the waters.
Novak and volunteers captured them earlier that morning. Then, Lakeland veterinarian and swan-care expert Dr. Geoff Gardner gave them basic veterinary treatment.
“They’re very healthy except for a little conjunctivitis from the water, but that could be due to the salinity of the water or the recent rain,” Novak said
Gardner also implanted microchips in their chests and placed neckbands on them for identification purposes, and also plucked a few feathers for DNA testing to determine their sex.
And the sixth cygnet?
It was the one that got away. It evaded capture during the weekend, but Novak will attempt to capture it again Friday so that it can undergo the same treatments.
What happened Sunday were just the beginning steps toward what Novak hopes to accomplish within five to eight years: a same-sex swan pair for each of the six potential swan territories on the Key.
Swans mate for life and will pair with a same-sex partner if placed in the same territory.
Novak believes that the pairing is necessary because of the threat of overpopulation. Swans are territorial by nature, and only one pair can occupy a territory. With three adult pairs and six healthy cygnets, the family doesn’t have much room to grow.
By December, swan parents typically chase away their cygnets to prepare for nesting in the spring.
That’s why in November, Novak will use the results of DNA testing to pair the swans according to sex.
Swans that can’t be paired will be moved to other communities through Novak’s contacts with the Regal Swan Foundation.
Someday, that would mean the end of cygnets on Longboat.
But that day would likely be far away because the newest pair, Sully and Suzie, could have close to a decade’s worth of cygnets ahead.
The Lakeland-based Regal Swan Foundation has agreed to a multi-year effort to provide ongoing care to the Key’s swan family.
In August, Novak announced the establishment of a fund at SunTrust Bank to support the efforts. Since then, he’s been overwhelmed by the community’s support. He declined to say how much has been raised but said this year’s fundraising goal was “handsomely exceeded” and that some funds are left over for next year.
“Once I saw the response, it was very emotional for me,” Novak said. “I felt humbled, and I realized that the support for keeping them here and healthy is pretty strong.”
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