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Team effort to rescue black swans from Goose Creek in Southold

The black swans sighted in Southold a few weeks ago are on their way to an animal sanctuary.  

Rescued by Southold residents and animal-advocacy groups Long Island Orchestrating for Nature and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, the swans were scooped from Goose Creek in Southold on Thursday.  

The pair were first spotted by Southold residents, who kept an eye on them until help arrived — at which point local kayakers corralled them toward LION president John Di Leonardo. He was able to scoop both with a net, although he “would have liked to have hand-grabbed them.” 

“I threw some bread out to entice them to get a little close to me and they did at first … but they were a little skittish,” he said. “When I saw they weren’t interested in the bread anymore and they were looking for a way to go, I quickly netted the large male and then the female got past the kayaks, but they corralled her and I just walked [through] the waist-deep water, you know, maybe 100 feet or so, and was able to net her.” 

After an alert from Mr. Di Leonardo, Karen Testa, the executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, rushed to the creek, which is about 20 minutes away from the nonprofit’s animal hospital, with volunteer Jodi Flynn. When they arrived, some kayakers were already trying to bring the swans closer to the family that had originally spotted them. Ms. Flynn climbed into a kayak to join the group as they “tried circling the swans to get them to shore.” 

“To see neighbors just jump in their kayaks to help these two helpless animals, it was amazing — I met such wonderful people,” Ms. Flynn said. “For everyone to jump in, I know someone’s granddaughter was out there — she was young — just to experience that, it was nice. I was glad to help.” 

According to an article on the North Fork Patch website, Glenna Ryan and her husband Don initially reported the swans to LION. Dana Kuhl and her daughter Sophia LaPorta set out in kayaks, later joined by Kathleen Foley and Cathy Sleckman, to keep an eye on and later corral the birds.

Ms. Testa said although Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons is licensed to rescue and rehabilitate Long Island wildlife, black swans are not native to New York. She isn’t sure if they’re legal in the state, but “let’s face it, you can buy anything on the black market,” she said. She pointed out that, “funnily enough,” white swans on Long Island are invasive themselves — they “choked out the mute swans that lived out here.” The black swans, according to Mr. Di Leonardo, had already come into conflict with native swans in the area.

“We got a report yesterday because native swans are much larger and they’re very territorial, so they were actually attacking these guys, defending their territory, and a kayaker reportedly intervened and put them into this different creek,” he said.

The capture would have been more difficult if they were wild birds, he added. They would have “caught on right away” that the volunteers were up to something. Native to Australia, it’s likely these swans were raised in captivity and released — a potential “death sentence” for the birds and an environmental disruption that’s illegal in New York, according to Mr. Di Leonardo.  

“It’s a crime to abandon domestic fowl on Long Island or in New York … and we’d like to remind people that it’s punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine,” he said. “These guys cannot defend themselves against natural predators.”

The black swans would not have survived come winter, Ms. Testa said. “They would have definitely died” once it dropped under around 60 degrees. As it was, the pair were “emaciated” and “malnourished,” surviving on bread — which is unhealthy for water birds — from residents nearby. 

Ms. Testa expressed frustration with their abandonment. Whoever had owned the swans “took the easy way out and dumped them in the wild” instead of finding them a home, she said, pointing out that many domesticated animals will die if left to their own in the wilderness. 

Mr. Di Leonardo said LION has seen an uptick in abandoned birds on Long Island since the outbreak of the pandemic, which — like dogs and cats — came into demand with lockdown. 

“A lot of people [are] working from home now and their kids were home from school for the first half of [the pandemic] so they were doing a lot of home hatching projects and you know, buying pets and then abandoning pets,” he said. “You saw the dogs and the cats? We see it with the chickens, we see it with the ducks and now we may be seeing it with swans.” 

He speculated someone might have ordered the black swans online or found a seller. There are few laws protecting birds in the U.S., he said, although in New York, all domestic and non-native animals are covered by the prohibition on abandoning animals.

A few animal sanctuaries have reached out to LION about taking in the swans, but the group has not yet determined which the birds will go to. Until then, they will stay with Mr. Di Leonardo and then possibly a foster home in Huntington.