Lakeland’s swan story: The origin of the swan in Lakeland, FL

Photo by Lakeland History Room Collection @ Lakeland Public Library

DYK swans have been around Lakeland for nearly a century now? The earliest records date back to 1923 (the same year of Yankee stadium grand opening + Time Magazine’s first issue).

Though little is known of the first population of swans that once ruled swan city (except that they were well-loved by their people), we do know how the current population’s ancestors arrived.

Back in the 1950s, the swans were slowly decreasing in number due to various illnesses + not-so-friendly alligator neighbors (circle of life, I guess?). In 1953, the last pair of birds quietly disappeared. Travelers + locals alike, immediately felt the lakes looked empty without the swans. A specific pair of native Lakelanders, Mr. and Mrs. Pickhardt, heard the news all the way from the UK, where they were currently stationed on an Air Force Base. Mrs. Pickhardt decided to write a letter to the Queen (yes, the Queen) to see if she’d be willing to lend a pair of her royal swans to our city.  

Queen Elizabeth replied to the request sending notice that two of the royal swans would be donated to Lakeland, Florida. With the request completed, Pickhardt now had to obtain a permit required for transporting the swans overseas, as well as, raise the funds for shipping fees. The fundraising for the mere $300 began in Lakeland with a drive, but only $7 came in through this effort. Word continued to spread though, and neighboring cities Orlando and St. Pete pledged to help Lakeland raise the money.

Yet as the final preparations were being made for the swans’ flight, an oil barge sank in the river they were housed in, causing a spill all over the beloved birds. This delayed transportation for a while, as the birds were being checked + thoroughly washed and as travel permits were renewed.

The birds finally landed in Lakeland on February 7, 1957 and were safely placed in Lake Morton. But by Sunday morning, they were no longer there. Shocked, the city started searching for the adventurous pair. The Ledger’s morning paper read, “Copters and Crew Combing Lakes for Swans.” Turns out, the female swan had been on Lake Morton the whole time and the male swan was found and returned four days later. From there, Lakeland’s royal swan family grew and we kept our icon as the “swan city.”

Today, Lakeland’s swan population has grown to an estimated 80 swans – which is an overpopulation, according to City officials.

To solve this problem, the City is planning to hold a swan sale, after the 40th Swan Roundup. During the last sale, swans were purchased by private homeowners + local businesses for $300 each

The city already has a pretty long list of people who have reached out over the past several years, inquiring about purchasing one of LAL’s royal avians. Maybe we’re all hoping it’ll make us one step closer to royalty?  👑