Obituary for a Swan

Meadow Lake Favorite Meets Violent End

joseph tiraco

Flushing Meadows. Saturday, January 24th 2004. Today, the body of an adult swan was spotted just a few yards from the entrance of Meadow Lake’s western parking lot. It is not clear, even though this writer knew the deceased and his or her family for some time, if it was Mr. or Mrs. Swan lying dead. We shall respectfully refer to our fallen fellow Queensite as, M.Swan.

M.Swan, a large bird 40 or so pounds, attired in winter plumage of white and brown feathers, was stretched out on the icy bank of Meadow Lake, neck elongated and eyes wide open looking elegant and serene even in death. A trail of blood spots on the ice led back to the lake. The grieving family and several hundred friends swam just off shore in an unfrozen patch of water. Apparently, M.Swan was attacked in the water and came to land to die. No witness to the incident has as yet surfaced, and none are expected to speak, since M.Swan and family are Anatidae of the genera Cygnus olor, or “Mute Swan.” The killer, or killers, as the case may be, are still at large and considered extremely dangerous.

Robert Moses, the great New York builder, used to disparagingly describe the rats of Flushing Meadows as big enough to wear saddles. The place had been the city dump for decades; and the huge mountains of garbage and ashes cleaned up in the 1930s for what at the time was the largest East Coast land reclamation project in history: building the New York World’s Fair of 1939. The garbage is long gone, but its legacy - very large, hardy rats defying all attempts at extermination - remains problematic to this day. The City’s infestation experts are between a rock and a hard place fighting Flushing Meadows’ rat population, trying to target just the rats and leave the large water fowl community unharmed. Success has been elusive.

In all likelihood, M.Swan was killed in a rodent attack. Meadow Lake never freezes completely - the reason for this reduces to a number of maybes: perhaps the Flushing River runs too quickly in spots, or perhaps the water is brackish, or maybe the ducks themselves, using bodies and beaks, keep a patch of water open in order to feed on underwater vegetation. The birds group together for safety or rest in open expanses of water where they can out-swim or quickly fly off and avoid attack. But as Meadow Lake freezes and the liquid water contracts to a narrow trough along the shore, predators can closely approach and attack the confined birds.

Let us not dwell too long on the morbid demise of our friend, but remember the M.Swan we knew and admired in the full bloom of life. Here is a brief description of swans from Encyclopedia Britannica,


Swans are gracefully long-necked, heavy-bodied, big-footed birds that glide majestically when swimming and fly with slow wingbeats and with necks outstretched. They migrate in diagonal formation or V-formation at great heights: no other waterfowl moves as fast on the water or in the air. They feed by dabbling (not diving) in shallows for aquatic plants. Male swans, called cobs, and females, called pens, look alike. Swans are sociable except in breeding season. They mate for life. The pen incubates, on average, a half-dozen pale, unmarked eggs, on a heap of vegetation, while the cob keeps close guard; in some species he takes his turn at brooding. The young, called cygnets, emerge short-necked and thickly downed; though capable of running and swimming a few hours after hatching, they are carefully tended for several months: in some species they may ride about on their mother's back. Swans mature in the third or fourth year and live perhaps 20 years in the wild and 50 years or more in captivity.

M.Swan lived in a close knit family group of three swans (occasionally as many as five swam together.) While capable of flying to far flung parts of the globe, they chose to make Flushing Meadows their year-round home. In this park which features a petting zoo, the creatures most doted upon by daily visitors are not captive, but there because they want to be there. The gregarious water fowl of Meadow Lake have developed a bond with the people of Queens - and in a sense are public pets, fed by many loving hands. Of the park’s many birds, M.Swan was royalty, the ducks and geese demurely yielding to the large swans gracefully gliding by, and young people on the shore holding out hands full of food in frenzied attempts to lure a swan. M.Swan will be sorely missed. We can only hope the remaining swans of Meadow Lake are fertile and prolific, for a lake without a swan is the very parable of barren loneliness.


Luring the Swans

last known photo

Photo: Deborah L. Davis, Forest Hills, NY




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