Wedged in! Swans frozen in Prospect Park Lake saved, free birds once more

Guardian angel: Park worker Marty Bast ferries a wounded swan to shore after it became trapped in ice on Prospect Park Lake.
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They were numb to it!

A park worker rescued three young swans from Prospect Park Lake early Sunday morning after plummeting temperatures incited a flash freeze that trapped the cygnets in ice, according to a local animal lover, who said the birds would not be alive were it not for their heroic savior.

“She had to chisel them out by going back and forth to the deli across the street to get boiling water to pour on the ice,” said Park Slope dog-walker Randi Lass, who initiated the recovery effort. “Without her, the birds would have died. No doubt about it.”

The local said she first spotted the frozen-in-place cygnets at 6 pm on Saturday, as the hapless creatures flapped their wings in a desperate bid to break free from the lake’s icy grasp.

Lass, who said she refrained from acting herself because venturing onto Prospect Park Lake as a civilian could have ended in her arrest, instead called for help upon realizing the swans’ fowl plight, contacting friends at local rescue operations, shelters, and wildlife refuges, along with the city’s emergency services, she said.

Lass and her fellow advocates could not reach officials at the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation or Animal Care Center on Saturday, however, and authorities referred the incident to the Fire Department, which sent firefighters to the lake who ultimately left without recovering the birds, according to another animal lover who helped get the word out.

“Someone told me firefighters had gone out but there was nothing they could do,” said Stella Blanca Panzarino, founder of the Lost and Found Pets in Brooklyn Facebook page.

The locals’ rescue effort continued into the night, with Lass joining the cygnets’ worried wedge on the lake’s shore while the trapped creatures screeched for help amid the darkness, sparking fear in everyone, she said.

“The cries, they echo when you’re there alone in the park,” Lass said. “If you’ve ever heard a swan in distress, it’s horrible.”

Lass finally reached park worker Marty Bast, a forestry technician employed by meadow caretaker the Prospect Park Alliance, on the phone around 4 am on Sunday, while she was sleeping off a cold at her Manhattan home, the Park Sloper said.

But Bast hopped out of bed and into a cab, Lass said, meeting the dog walker at the lake around 6 am along with other wildlife advocates — including Tricia Bastian and Mary Beth Purdy Artz, who with Bast’s help rescued another swan from the water in October.

The four-woman crew spent the next hour recovering a boat before Bast braved the frigid waters without essential gear such as a dry suit and rope, according to Lass. The park employee then began the hour-and-a-half ordeal of chiseling away the lake’s ice in order to haul each bird to safety one-by-one.

Bast left shortly after getting the swans to dry ground, but the other women stayed to care for the birds for hours before Prospect Park Alliance rangers arrived, with Bastian coming and going to cook warm meals for the thawing creatures at her nearby home, Lass said.

The rescuers brought one cygnet to a Manhattan wildlife refuge after Purdy Artz noticed the critter looked woozy, and vets there found the swan suffering from dehydration brought on by hypothermia in addition to ectoparasites living within and eating the bird’s feathers, the refuge’s honcho said.

“It’s not great,” said Rita McMahon, director of the Wild Bird Fund.

But the swan took food quickly despite his — or her — weakened state, and refuge staff expects to eventually release it back into the wild, McMahon said.

Lass said the birds normally migrate to warmer climates in the winter, but may have stuck around because misguided park patrons are feeding them.

And the three swans weren’t the only victims of Saturday’s flash freeze. Prospect Park Lake’s ice also immobilized a seagull, which Lass said was still alive when she first saw it with the cygnets, but died before Bast could save it.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 7:46 pm, January 16, 2018: This story has been updated to note that one rescued swan was brought to a Manhattan wildlife refuge for further care.
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Reasonable discourse

Bird from Park Slope says:
This is a normal occurrence for this animal and just another example of urban society being out of touch with nature.

The stress trauma this bird incurred from this human was far worse than any good that may have come out of it.

Nonetheless I'm happy that this worker didn't meet its own demise being out on this frozen water.
Jan. 15, 2018, 9:43 pm
Anthony from Windsor Terrace says:
Well I'm impressed.
Jan. 15, 2018, 10:34 pm
Liam from Kensington says:
While I'm sure it's normal for birds to freeze to death, I (and I'm sure many other park goers) appreciate all the efforts of Ms. Lass, Ms. Bast and all the other women who rescued the wee birds. Great job :)
Jan. 17, 2018, 1:48 pm

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