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January 2000

News of Research
Concerning The Mute Swan

Index to The Regal Swan Project

The mating pair of English Mute Swans at Orange Lake
Resort & Country Club, in Orlando, Florida.
The photo was taken by Shirley Bolin©.

The following article has been kindly provided by Shirley Bolin and a five member research team working from Orange Lake Resort and Country Club and Lakeland, Florida. ThamesWeb were contacted in November 1999 with a request for information about the swans on the Thames and we were delighted to be of assistance by providing contact information and other resources.

It is a powerful feature of the Internet that contact of this kind can be made so easily and that valuable information can be exchanged and pooled.

This article and the accompanying photographs have been extracted from "The Regal Swan, 2000", the resulting publication following the substantial research into care of the Mute Swan by the research team.

Please see the end of this article for additional information concerning the project.

We wish the team every success and extend our thanks for permission to feature the following on The Royal Windsor Web Site.

To Save A Swan


Shirley A. Bolin, A.G.S. Fanchon F. Funk, Ed.D. Geoffrey R. Gardner, D.V.M.

Rebecca Webb Wilson, J.D. Sheila A. Bolin, M.S.


In the early morning mist, the rising sun throws its rays onto gleaming white feathers. Two by two, the birds ply through the water, barely causing a ripple. In line, as if toy soldiers, they parade up and down the banks searching for food. These magnificent creatures are English Mute Swans and they are finding more than food beneath the water's surface. Below lies a silent killer waiting for its next victim. The killer? Botulism.  

'A native of Europe and Asia, the English Mute Swan was originally introduced into the United States in New York's Hudson River Valley during the 19th century. The English Mute is a protected species in England because of its royal lineage. Many of the swans are direct descendants of swans raised and bred from Her Majesty The Queen's Royal stock, dating back to the 12th century.' (The Regal Swan, 2000). From the winding shores of the Thames River, to the lakes and ponds of Florida and the Southeastern United States, in some cases, this magnificent bird is dying from botulism, lead poisoning, predators and random acts of violence.

Indigenous neither to Florida nor the south eastern United States, English Mute Swans are being introduced to hot and sometimes hostile climates to adorn ponds and lakes. These bodies of water, many of which are man-made, are scattered throughout resorts, hotels, motels, recreation facilities and theme parks. Information available to many property owners regarding how to raise and maintain these creatures is limited at best. Although most people are aware that the swans need to be fed, they may feed them only bread which can cause deficiencies in their diet and lead to a variety of health problems.

In areas where ponds or lakes are highly maintained, such as golf courses or other public facilities, the swans may not have enough food to survive. The swans' diet must be supplemented using a feed mix consisting of cracked corn and laying poultry pellets or crumbles. The birds are fed out of a Blitz® USA automatic dog feeder mounted on a pole in the water so that other animals cannot get into the food. The food must be checked on a regular basis because a mold may grow in the food which can sicken or kill the birds.

The Blitz® Swan Feeder

The Blitz® Automatic Dog Feeder.
Photo by Rebecca Webb Wilson©.

Lead poisoning continues to be a danger to swans as well as other waterfowl due to the ingestion of lead fishing sinkers. Predators of swans in the south eastern United States include alligators, otters, foxes, and in the case of baby swans (cygnets), blue herons and egrets. Mankind remains the most unpredictable predator with many acts of violence and theft reported each year.

However, the swans' worst enemy appears to be botulism. Botulism knows no barriers. It is found in England, Florida and the south eastern United States and kills both captive and wild swans. 'It is estimated that millions of birds die annually. Botulism management is an international concern,' according to Ducks Unlimited in Canada. Avian botulism is known to affect all waterfowl including ducks, pelicans, geese and swans.

'Many swans die from botulism during the summer months when temperatures increase causing a blue-green algae to grow in the water,' stated Mr. David Barber, Swan Marker To Her Majesty The Queen. The neurotoxin strikes quickly, and in most cases, there is little that can be done. However, some affected birds have been treated with intensive therapy support,' according to Ms. Dot Beeson, Founder and Mr. Steve Knight, Trustee of the Swan Sanctuary in Egham, England.

Botulism is a neurotoxin given off by the bacterium Clostridium Botulinum. There are six main types of toxins produced, only two of which, types A and C, are believed to cause disease in birds. The toxins are released by the bacteria found in dead and decaying plant or animal matter in the muck found in the lake bottom. The signs of botulism are a flaccid paralysis of the skeletal musculature, especially the neck and tongue. This is the reason for the common name of the disease, 'limberneck.' Treatment is expensive and often not effective. If the muscles that control breathing are also paralyzed, death quickly results. Prevention of the deadly disease is the method currently used by Florida Veterinarian, Geoffey R. Gardner, D.V.M.

Dr. Gardner, of the Lakeland Veterinary Hospital, is responsible for the care of the swans for the City of Lakeland, a flock numbering nearly 200 birds, as well as many of the swans that need care in the Central Florida area. 'The value of preventing botulism has been evident over the years. This is a situation where an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure,' says Gardner. Previously, his father, Wade Gardner, D.V.M., was the caretaker for the Lakeland flock which included a mating pair of swans donated to Lakeland by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr. Geoffrey Gardner and Sheila Bolin with swan at Orange Lake Resort

Dr. Geoffrey Gardner and Sheila Bolin with one of the swans at Orange Lake Resort &
Country Club in Orlando, Florida. The photo was taken by Shirley Bolin©.

During Dr. Wade Gardner's 40 year tenure, he became a pioneer in documenting, diagnosing and treating a variety of conditions in the Lakeland swans. In the early 80's, botulism nearly wiped out the Lakeland swan population. Dr. Wade Gardner began innoculating the swans against botulism. For over 20 years, his method of botulism prevention has been successfully used and losses of birds in recent years to botulism has been mitigated. For more than a decade, Dr. Geoffrey Gardner has carried on the task of using a vaccine to routinely protect the entire flock from the threat of botulism.

Led by Dr. Geoffrey Gardner, a project team has been formed to document and research Dr. Wade Gardner's work with the swan vaccinations. Rhinosporodium which causes a fungal eye infection in the birds from inferior water quality will also be studied. This fungus can be treated with an antibiotic opthalmalic solution. 'A large number of swan owners/keepers are not aware of the need for routine health checks by a licensed veterinarian who is trained to detect early signs of disease,' according to Dr. Geoffrey Gardner. ' It is essential that a practical knowledge base be accessible for individuals wishing to raise and maintain the animals.'

Adult English Mute Swan

An adult English Mute swan with two cygnets
approximately 8 months of age at Orange Lake Resort & Country Club.
The photo was taken by Rebecca Webb Wilson©.

'The Regal Swan Project,' is being supported by Kemmons Wilson, Founder of Holiday Inn® and developer of Orange Lake Resort & Country Club in Orlando, Florida. Wilson and his son, Spence, Chairman of the Board of Orange Lake Resort & Country Club, hope that this important research project changes the way the birds are raised and bred. The information gathered will be used to help increase the bird's survival rate and ensure the continuation of its royal lineage for future generations. Data gathered will appear in book form in 'The Regal Swan' (2000). Other sponsors include: Blitz® USA, Lakeland Veterinary Hospital, American Camper, The Sports Authority, Cobra Electronics and Timex®.

Historical information is being provided by The Royal Windsor Website by ThamesWeb which is devoted to stories and histories about the town of Windsor, England. "ThamesWeb's help has been invaluable. They have provided personal insight into the history of the English Mute Swan, giving us color background for the book, to which we might not otherwise have had access. And last, but certainly not least, ThamesWeb has helped to pave the way for contact between the research team and England's swan providers," explains Sheila Bolin, M.S., Orange Lake's swan keeper.

Team members of the 'Regal Swan Project' include: Geoffrey R. Gardner, D.V.M., Lakeland Veterinary Hospital; Sheila A. Bolin, M.S., Orange Lake's swan keeper; Fanchon F. Funk, Ed.D., Associate Professor, Florida State University; Rebecca Webb Wilson, J.D., Professional Photographer and Lifetime Trustee of the Memphis Zoological Society, Memphis, Tennessee; and Shirley A. Bolin, A.G.S., Orange Lake's Head Photographer.

For further information on the 'Regal Swan Project', contact Sheila Bolin, Orange Lake Resort & Country Club (Email: or tel: (407) 239-2292 or Dr. Geoffrey Gardner at (941) 665-1811.


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