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Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 26, 2010 7 years ago

Swan family reunites after separation

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

Vickie practically stomped over her seven cygnets that huddled near the Harbour Links pond on the Longboat Key Club and Resort’s Harbourside Golf Course. She made a beeline for the water, and the baby swans followed in a single-file line.

Shirley Bolin and Sheila Bolin, of The Regal Swan Foundation Inc., in Lakeland, expected the mother swan to unite with her mate, Henry, and form a heart at the front of the line of hatchlings in the water. Instead, she swam right past him.

“Vickie is not a happy camper right now,” Sheila Bolin said.

She was probably feeling abandoned as she returned to her home Saturday, May 22. The night before, she and the seven cygnets had been penned and captured so that the cygnets could be taken the next morning to Lakeland for their first trip to the veterinarian. Ideally, both parents would have been taken from the pond for the night. If swans are separated for an extended period of time from their young, they will reject them.
But during the Friday capture, Henry escaped, so it was Vickie who spent Friday night in Harbour Links resident David Novak’s garage.

In the past, Henry had a reputation as a wanderer, often leaving Vicki sitting alone on their nest, although he was more attentive than usual with this season’s cygnets. An eighth cygnet, the sole survivor from the nest of Stan and Wendy, also avoided capture Friday.

Novak, who looks after the swan family, stayed up until midnight with the family in his garage, where fans ran throughout the night to keep the swans cool. Even after Novak went to sleep, he woke up periodically to check on them, spraying them down with water every couple of hours.

Around 9 a.m. the next morning, Novak made the two-hour drive to Lakeland with Bolin sitting in the backseat with the cygnets, who chirped the entire time.

According to Bolin, veterinarian Dr. Geoffrey Gardener gave the cygnets a clean bill of health.

“The vet said that they had not missed a meal,” she said, which is a testament to both the parenting skills of Henry and Vickie and the vegetation on the Key Club’s golf course.

The only health issues the cygnets had were minor eye irritations. The young swans were pinioned and vaccinated against botulism, a disease that killed Gracie, one of the pond’s two original swans.

By 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the family was reunited. And Vickie’s ire was short-lived: Within minutes, Vickie and Henry were, once again, swimming together.

But the next day, a scene that wasn’t so joyous played out. Vickie and Henry began to reject one of their cygnets, an occurrence that happens when swans weed out the weaker cygnets in their brood. A crowd gathered and watched in horror Sunday as the parents shunned the young swan by pushing and picking at it. The Longboat Key Police Department notified Novak, who rescued the cygnet.

But there is hope for the baby bird. On Tuesday, Novak headed back to Lakeland with the shunned swan in tow. There, the cygnet will remain under supervision at Gardener’s facility, which has a lake. Then, the cygnet will likely be released on Lake Morton, in Lakeland. The lake has hundreds of swans with which the cygnet can live. And there, he will get a new beginning.

Pinioning Process

Pinioning is a procedure in which one side of the swan’s wing is clipped, ideally done before the swan is 21 days old, because the tip of the wing is essentially feathers with no nerves. The 90-second procedure doesn’t require anesthesia. Sheila Bolin, of The Regal Swan Foundation Inc., compares the procedure to spaying and neutering dogs and cats. It is necessary for the health of the animal population, because it keeps the swans in a safe environment.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].

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