Jameson Champion | Oct. 7, 2022
Many consider one of the most prominent fixtures of the City of Lakeland to be its famous swans that live on Lake Morton. The graceful birds are prominently featured across the city; becoming the city’s mascot in signs, marketing and even the themed statues placed near local businesses.
The swans are known by many to be beloved occupants of the city. Lakeland goes through extensive measures taking care of the birds, spending $10,000 a year on feeding and other costs. The city also hosts annual “Swan Roundups” where they capture all the birds to perform yearly medical check-ups. The event in 2020 also included a sale of pairs of swans, done occasionally by the city to ensure that they do not overpopulate their home on Lake Morton.
Despite their popularity, many may not know how they tie Lakeland to the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II of England, and how it was her contribution that gave Lakeland a major piece of its identity.
According to the City of Lakeland, Lakeland’s first swans were not from the queen, but rather from seasonal residents who brought them as exotic pets. By 1926, swans adorned every lake in Lakeland, which established a Swan Department to oversee them.
The swans were part of Lakeland for almost 30 years until they died out in 1954. Attacks from local wildlife like alligators and dogs, as well as interactions with humans, meant that the birds were wiped from Lakeland’s lakes. What was once an attraction at nearly every lake in the city was all but gone.
This is where the queen came into play. A former citizen of Lakeland, then living in England, brought the matter to Queen Elizabeth II to bring swans back to Lakeland. The Queen offered Lakeland a pair of royal mute swans that swam along the Thames River, so long as the city could pay the $300 for the handling and shipping of the birds.
After a rocky journey that included a nearly failed fundraiser and an oil barge sinking and contaminating the birds at the outset of their travels, the birds finally arrived in Lakeland. After three years of lacking graceful birds, Lakeland had a male and female pair floating on Lake Morton in 1957. Disaster struck when the city realized the birds’ wings had not been clipped which left the male to flee the female’s company soon after their arrival, and despite being recovered it died shortly thereafter in a fatal accident.
The death of her too-curious partner left the widow to pick from a local swannery a commoner who she could mate with. This new partner was a much more successful pairing, producing the baby swans that many of Lakeland’s current swans descend from today.
While the Queen had celebrated her 70-year Platinum Jubilee in February of this year, Lakeland’s swans got to hold their own 65-year Sapphire Jubilee in the same month.
Alongside the mute swans provided by Queen Elizabeth II, Lake Morton’s swan population has also been diversified to include three other species.
“The swan population is made up of four species: Australian Black Swans, White Mutes, South American Black-Necked Swans and White Coscoroba Swans,” Lakeland Communications Director Kevin Cook said in a 2016 interview with The Southern.
Since their arrival, the swans have become Lakeland’s own sort of royalty and mascot of sorts. An iconic feature of the city are the statues that adorn local businesses. According to Lakeland’s Public Library, the statues, each painted with a unique art style, were originally part of a 2002 art program called ‘Swansation’ where these statues were displayed before being auctioned off.
The proceeds from that auction went to Explorations V, a museum located in the downtown area, alongside other charities. Many of these statues are still on display today, such as in front of the Terrace Hotel on Main Street, the RIS radiology clinic on Massachusetts Avenue and the First United Methodist Church located on Lake Morton.
Other locations in which the birds have become mascots include Lakeland’s logo. According to the Lakeland Ledger, Lakeland’s original logo was of a ‘citrus globe’ due to Lakeland’s burgeoning citrus industry in the mid-1900s. However, with the decline of citrus in Lakeland, a new look was needed.
“In 2001, we went to a swan logo,” Cook said in a 2014 interview with the Lakeland Ledger “Lakeland’s synonymous with the swans, and they basically are like our mascot. So in 2001, we developed the swan logo. Very basic, and truthfully, it’s clip art.”
In 2014 the self-described ‘clip art’ logo received a rework to the one on Lakeland’s iconography today. A six-colored, minimalist-style swan was implemented in October 2014, meant to represent Lakeland’s diverse community and values.
All of this leads to September 9, when a wreath was placed in city hall, honoring the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Without her contribution to the mute swans that Lakeland is known for, the city would not have the unique identity it’s known for today.