Whooping it Up at Lake Eola

June 26, 2017

This past weekend, I paired up with my erstwhile protégé Camille to pick up some easy “gets” for our birding lists: swans. These birds are mostly introduced or from feral stock but various organizations, like the ABA and local organizations (and eBird) have been allowing some of these birds to be “officially” counted as they become established breeders or long term residents well outside their native ranges. Introduced animals are always a potential problem, but that’s hardly the birds’ faults.

Like the swans of Lake Morton in Lakeland, the swans in Orlando’s Lake Eola [map] are a source of pride and attraction to the downtown area. The lake and its park are central both geographically and culturally for many of Orlando’s events.

Lake Eola’s large fountain is especially pretty at night, but remains impressive even on an overcast morning.

By and large the lake is dominated by Mute Swans. These birds are breeding here, just as they are in Lakeland. Most Mute cygnets (the term for young swans) are brownish-gray, but some have a genetic expression that makes them more white right out of the egg.

Mute cygnets of 2 different color morphs.
With parents on guard nearby, these youngsters were able to stretch and relax.

Mute Swans are native to Europe but have been introduced extensively around the world. Despite their beauty and grace, they can be ruthless and domineering when threatened or challenged. Luckily for us, they were mostly content to lets us walk by while their children relaxed and preened.

Mute Swans adults are distinguished by the large knob at the base of the bill.
Grace and power.

Several pairs of Black Swans were there as well. Black Swans are native to Australia, but introduced widely in the USA and Europe (my lifer Black Swan is from London during my honeymoon).  Their bright red bills really stand out against the birds dark plumage.

I can only imagine how novel and strange a black swan would have been to Europeans arriving in Australia.
Close-up of a Black Swan’s head.

South America has the Black-necked Swan, of which one was visible on our visit. The contrasting body and neck as well as the red facial knobs (carunculations) are diagnostic for this species of swan.

Black-necked Swans are comparatively small, for swans, but are South America’s largest waterfowl.

I’ve seen Trumpeter Swans in flight in New England as a child and young adult, but never up close or floating on the water. It was a treat to see one mingling with the other swans.

Trumpeter Swans have an all black face a bill, contrasted with the Whooper Swans’ mostly yellow bill.

Whooper Swans are also present at Lake Eola, with several presumably mated pairs. They are native to Europe and Asia, and are closely related to Trumpeter Swans. The main visible difference between the two is their bill color. Whooper Swans are the Eurocentric “prototypical” swan as evidenced by their scientific name, Cygnus cygnus (the Latin word for swan).

One of several pairs of Whooper Swans on the lake.
Swans can use their long necks to reach for food deeper than what ducks and geese can reach.

There was a surprisingly wide range of bird species from the expected, like Mottled/Mallard crosses and Muscovy Ducks, to local natives like herons and egrets.

This proud mama Muscovy Duck paraded right down the sidewalk, quacking loudly, head high and chest out as her babies followed. Everyone (people, dogs, birds, and squirrels) made a path for her.
Fledgling Green Heron.

Here’s the full eBird list for those interested:

Lake Eola is a beautiful setting right in downtown Orlando, and though it can get crowded at times (especially if special events are taking place) I recommend a visit if you’re in the area.


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