A Swan Song With a Hopeful Ending


 A Jamaica Bay waterfowl almost faced its swan song, but thanks to a few dedicated animal lovers, this lucky bird turned out to be the main star of one of those “only in New York” kind of stories, with a happy ending.

Swans have become the subject of many photos since taking residence in local waters. Their families, with new offspring almost every season, have become a delight to those who spend time on Jamaica Bay. So the sight of an unwell swan at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in recent weeks tugged at the heart strings of visitors.

Bernadette O Callaghan of Rockaway Park is familiar with swans in the bay as an avid kayaker and volunteer for the Community Boathouse, so when she decided to go for a walk for the first time around the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Sunday, November 1, she was surprised to see a swan acting peculiar on land. “It was the most tragic thing you could see. The poor thing looked like somebody had beat it with a baseball bat. This majestic bird, that is usually so elegant, was all over the place. It couldn’t stand up. It was trying to get back into the water and was using its neck to support itself,” O Callaghan said. “I watched helplessly, and it was eventually able to get into the water and I thought at least that was a good sign, thinking it would be able to get food and survive.”

However, still concerned, O Callaghan sought advice. She took to Facebook to post photos of the swan, including in the Community Boathouse page for input. People suggested various organizations to contact, including the Wild Bird Fund. An acquaintance, Jeannine Riekers, of Broad Channel, who had posted about another swan that was found with a fish hook caught in it, also reached out to O Callaghan to ask if it was the same one. They realized this was a different bird in distress and began brainstorming ideas to help. Riekers suggested taking a boat out to it, but with the swan in a pond, it was not a possibility. O Callaghan considering bringing a kayak to the Refuge the next day to try to reach the swan, but it poured rain that Sunday. The next day, Riekers went to the Refuge to try to locate the swan but couldn’t find it. She also contacted the Wild Bird Fund, which was aware of the swan and also said they had tried to locate it but couldn’t find it. It seemed all hope was lost.

A few days later, they learned what came of the swan they affectionately named Swanky. In a Facebook post by the Wild Bird Fund, the rescue organization detailed the ordeal of a former employee who happened upon the swan and brought it to them, by subway of course.

Ariel Cordova-Rojas, of Spanish Harlem, rode her bike to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to do some bird watching on Thursday, November 5, the eve of her 30th birthday. She didn’t know her pre-birthday celebration would turn into a rescue. “I was about a mile into the west loop and I saw the swan laying on the grass and didn’t think much of it until I realized it was there for a good 10 minutes, which was odd as it was about to get dark and they’re normally not there by the water’s edge by themselves. I approached it slowly and this swan did not move at all, which was weird because swans can be aggressive, loud and territorial.”

As she got closer, the swan attempted to move, and Cordova-Rojas confirmed something was not right when the swan was unable to stand and was wobbling. She took action. Throwing her coat over the swan’s head, she was able to pick her up. Then she began to seek help. Having previously worked for the Wild Bird Fund based in Manhattan, she tried to contact some of her colleagues, but nobody was available. So she carried the 17-pound swan to the beginning of the trail to try to find assistance from a ranger. Unfortunately, the center was closed for the night. She then contacted Brooklyn ACC, who told her they would send someone, but after waiting for half an hour, no help arrived. However, a concerned passerby did. Heather O’Mara, who happens to be a friend of O Callaghan, offered to drive Cordova-Rojas to the train station. However, Cordova-Rojas still had her bike in tow. O’Mara contacted another friend, who drove the woman’s bike to the Howard Beach train station, as she drove Cordova-Rojas and the swan. O’Mara’s friend happened to be an MTA employee and helped bring Cordova-Rojas’ bike on to the train to make the ride a bit easier.

A swan on a train might raise some tourist’s eyebrows, but Cordova-Rojas says like true New Yorkers, most were unphased by the odd cargo. “Nobody even took a second glance,” she said. And the swan took it in stride. “She was very docile. She made a little bit of noise but didn’t move much because she was so weak,” she said. Fortunately, the swan didn’t have to make the full trip to the Upper West Side by train. Cordova-Rojas met with colleagues around Nostrand Ave, who helped her complete the trip by car to the Wild Bird Fund.

After a full examination, the female swan, which has since been dubbed Bae, after Jamaica Bay, was found to be a bit underweight and had lead toxicity, which caused the bird’s ataxia, or inability to coordinate its muscles. Cordova-Rojas says this is a common ailment in local waterfowl as they sometimes ingest lead anchors or fishing hooks. The swan is undergoing full treatment with the appropriate medications to draw out the lead and according to Cordova-Rojas, is in stable condition, but complications can arise during treatment. However, hopes are high that Bae will make it and will be brought back to Jamaica Bay after rehabilitation, which is the main mission of the Wild Bird Fund.

As for O Callaghan, she hopes to join that mission. After learning about the Wild Bird Fund, she hopes to volunteer for the group to help other birds in distress. She’s also happy that this one swan’s story, hopefully has a good ending. “I think this is the ultimate lesson in survival. Never give up, don’t lose hope, someone will be there for you,” O Callaghan said. “Stories do have a happy ending.”

Photos by Josh Spector and Ariel Cordova-Rojas.

By Katie McFadden


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