Ask the Swan Specialist
Date: 13 November 2015
Swans are a labor intensive investment. You first, would need to prepare the swan's habitat. In Florida, the lake would need to be checked for alligators and if they are not considered a nuisance, the Fish & Wildlife Services will not let you move them. If you could move them or there are none, you will need to pen the pond so that alligators, coyotes, bobcats and other predators cannot access the pond and attack the swans.
You will need to purchase an aerator with electricity/wiring that the swans cannot access. The aerator keeps the pond healthy so that the swans do not get a condition called Botulism which can kill them, especially during times of drought or even heavy rains. Anaerobic bacteria which causes the botulinum toxin become readily accessible during times of drought and heavy rains that flush them from their normal habitats. Swans have very long necks and can reach these areas during drought which can cause a neurological poisoning and even death. This is why the swans must also be vaccinated against the toxin.
You will need to build a pen (1/2 in water and 1/2 on land with a zero entrance) so that the swans can be kept there for approximately 2 weeks. A feeder will need to be placed in the pen so that the swans can learn how they are to be fed. This 2 week acclimation period will be required so that the swans not only learn how to feed, but they also learn that you are their caregiver and the habitat is their new home. If you drop the swans into the pond without this acclimation period, they will walk off or a predator will attack them while they are walking around.
This also brings up the habitat. You will need to carefully choose landscaping so that the swans are not poisoned by insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers and plants that the swans may eat or run-off into the pond. Swans are grazers and will eat grasses and plants, so habitat landscaping is very important.
The pen should be enclosed completely from top to bottom so that no predator can dig under the pen and access the swans or climb over and into the pen to access the swans. Additionally, the bottom perimeter of the fencing from bottom rail to 4 feet up should be enclosed using poultry fencing. This will prevent the swans from poking their heads through the chain link fencing or other fencing that you may use and get caught in the fence injuring themselves.
The feeder needs to be placed 3 feet from the bank and sunk into the pond. It is basically a Dog Cafe' filled with cracked corn and poultry layer pellet. The feeder is placed into the pond so that pests such as ants and rats do not access the food. The feeder will need to be changed on a weekly basis, much more frequently if it rains as the food can become moldy and sicken/kill the swans.
You will also need to invest in a good boat with a trolling motor that is fast enough to affect a capture should one is required for veterinary care or evacuation, such as during hurricanes or inclement weather with winds over 40 miles an hour. You will need to have a safe indoor shelter that the swans can be kept if such an event should occur. Straw is to be lined in the shelter with adequate ventilation, but protected from any predator that can climb into or dig into the shelter.
Then, you will need to determine the species and gender of the swans. Whatever you choose, you will need to determine gender as the state may require a permit if your swans can breed. Then, you will be responsible for all cygnets (babies) that the swans produce, all veterinary medical care, pinioning (surgical amputation of a portion of the wing so they cannot fly-this procedure MUST be performed at 1-3 weeks of age), and then you will need to find them a new home and provide all documentation regarding their health.
The above is why we would strongly suggest that you get 1 year old swans of the same gender. Yes, they will still nest and mate, but obviously not be able to produce viable cygnets.
Once you have the habitat prepared and the swan species/gender chosen, you will need to find a reputable swan breeder. We would strongly suggest Bob Knox out of Illinois. He will provide you with support and all veterinary medical documentation including gender so that you know you are receiving exactly what you are paying. We have worked with Bob for years and can attest to his reputation and knowledge of swans.
There are many and we many unscrupulous swan breeders. They do not care about the birds, so health will be questionable. They will tell you that you are receiving a certain gender, only to find out later that you may have the exact opposite gender you require or in the case of two same gendered swans, you may actually get a mating pair and be stuck with the legal responsibilities of cygnets. Money is all that these breeders care about, will dump any bird no matter what condition on your doorstep, take your money and leave you with whatever they give you. There prices can be extremely overpriced and if they want to make a quick buck, may be so cheap that you are inclined to go with them. Buyer Beware! Especially, for swans sold online with no documentation. If the breeder refuses to provide you with health certificates, etc., just like a puppy mill, RUN the opposite direction.
Once you have the swans, you will need to keep them in the pen for approximately 2 weeks, speak to them, feed them and generally try to familiarize them with you as much as possible so that if you need to catch them in an emergency, they will be easily caught. The last thing you want is a swan that is so scared of you that it never comes to you for feeding or constantly tries to flap at you with its wings because it fears for its life.
We have a book that is available on this website, Swans Of The World Habitats: Setting the Standard for Swan Conservation which will provide you a step-by step guide on how to set-up a swan habitat. As you can already see, the swans are a labor intensive investment (these are just some of the issues that must be addressed before and during swan maintenance) and if you do not have the time, patience or money to make such an investment, then in the best interest of you and the swans, you might want to enjoy the wild waterfowl that you already have on the lake. The Regal Swan