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Lakeland, Florida, is selling some of its 'iconic' swans amid rising costs and safety concerns

Swans originally donated by Queen Elizabeth II have been a community staple in Lakeland, Florida, for at least 60 years.
Swans try to elude capture during the 39th annual swan roundup on Lake Morton in Lakeland, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2019.Chris O'Meara / AP file

Later this month, around 30 of the beloved swans at Lake Morton in downtown Lakeland, Florida, will be for sale to the public.

"The magic number that we try to keep our swans around is about 65, and we're suspecting that we have got well over 80 right now," said Kevin Cook, director of communications for the city of Lakeland.

Cook said swans have inhabited the lake since about 1923. However, after the last remaining swan had a run-in with an alligator in 1954, the lake was left swanless — until a concerned resident wrote to Queen Elizabeth II of Britain asking for a donation of two of her swans.

The queen agreed to donate a pair of her mute swans, which arrived at Lake Morton in 1957.

Today, at least 80 mute swans reside on the densely populated lake, raising concerns about safety. In the last two years, Cook said, seven birds on Lake Morton have been struck by vehicles. The city has previously instituted lower speed limits around the lake and reconfigured driving patterns in hope of reducing swan deaths, but there is still the issue of limited space in the lake, which is only about a mile wide, Cook said.

"There's only so much real estate on the lake," he said. In addition to the swans, the lake is also home to a number of ducks and geese. Cook said there are no threats of predators, such as alligators, in the urban area.

That, coupled with the "very robust nesting season" the swans had this year, has resulted in overpopulation, which is quite costly for the city. The swan feed for the park's approximately 80 mute swans costs around $10,000 annually.

Next week is the city's 40th Annual Swan Round Up, a tradition that started in 1980 as a yearly wellness check for the birds. Veterinarians volunteer their time to ensure that the birds are healthy.

At 9 a.m. on Oct. 29, Lakeland will hold a first-come, first-served sale of around 30 swans for $400 apiece. There will be a limit of four swans per person, and buyers will need to meet qualifying criteria, Cook said. A buyer will have to have a body of water and a "safe environment" for the swans.

"You can't just go put them on a wild lake with alligators and things of that nature," Cook said.

Lakeland has held swan auctions in the past. The most recent sale was in 2014, and the city sold 20 swans.