Prospect Park now has a real swan lake

Prospect Park now has a real swan lake
The Brooklyn Paper / Stephen Brown

In a stunning development, two families of swans in Prospect Park have welcomed a new family of white-feathered visitors, flouting their reputation as territorial tyrants.

The change in avian behavior comes on the heels of the uneasy rapprochement reached between two once-warring waterfowl clans, the Monster and Honeybear families, which were previously vying for the prime feeding grounds by the boathouse.

Now the two families, each with one cygnet, are accommodating two more swans, dubbed John Boy and Grandpa, by the pair of bird lovers who spotted the newcomers’ arrival on Jan. 10.

“It’s a swan society at work!” said Ed Bahlman, who along with his companion Anne-Katrin Titze visits the swans like clockwork most mornings. “They’re just trying to make the best of the winter. They’re in it together.”

Bahlman insists that this is the first time that he can remember that three families of swans — normally territorial, aggressive creatures — are sharing the lake.

Indeed, on a recent sunny morning, all eight swans seemed to be getting along swimmingly. Mama Bear and Poppa Bear floated near the shore, awaiting discarded bread. Meanwhile, Honeybear romped with Ziggy and John Boy, chasing them off by batting his wings along the water.

Bahlman and Titze laughed at the antics, saying that Honeybear’s newfound confidence was nothing more than harmless roughhousing.

“This is truly what wildlife, left to its own devices, looks like,” Bahlman said while feeding one of the swans a handful of cooked corn.

A quick search on eBird.com (“revolutionizing the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds!”) reinforces the significance of the new swan community. The highest population on record from 1900 to present day in Prospect Park was in June of last year, when both the Honeybear and Monster families still had their broods intact.

Since those glory days, six of their cygnets have either perished or flown onto other lakes. Rumors abound that some of the infant swans died as a result of fishing-related injuries.

So, the current population of eight swans stands as an early record for 2010 that will likely not be challenged until April, when mating season begins.

The birder who filed the record count of 12 swans, Larry Zirlin, noted that it was uncommon for three families to live in peace.

“Normally, what happens is one family tends to stay in the lake, the other by the boathouse,” said Zirlin, who has kept tabs on birds in the park for roughly 20 years. “They can be very nasty beasts.”

In Zirlin’s estimation, swan lake will not be so tranquil when mating season begins.

“Last summer, it was like the Hatfields and McCoys,” Zirlin said. “This spring, if two of those cygnets get together, it will be the Montagues and Capulets.”