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Swan song nears for Worthington birds

WORTHINGTON -- Bob and Betty Demuth can't go to the grocery store without someone stopping them and asking about their swans.

The two mute swans migrated from the Demuths' Fox Farm Road property this summer and took up residence on Lake Okabena's Sunset Bay, much to the delight of many local residents who would view the birds on their treks around the lake and consequently generating a lot of questions about the birds' origin.

A story in the Sept. 1 issue of the Daily Globe explained that the Demuths acquired their first swans more than 15 years ago and had been keeping them at their pond ever since.

"I suppose they just swam down the creek," Bob said about how the birds got to the lake. "Last year, they stayed here until about the first of September, then they swam down there.

"This year, they were here until about June 1, then they disappeared, and we found them on Sunset Bay."

But now, suddenly, the swans have disappeared from their Sunset Bay vacation spot. "Where, oh where have the swans gone?" the Demuths get asked in the grocery store.

The Daily Globe article brought the swans to the attention of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who shortly thereafter contacted Bob Demuth via telephone, informing him that the presence of the birds on the lake was in violation of state regulations. At Bob's request, a certified letter was sent on Sept. 17.

Citing specific state statutes, the letter states, "Mute swans may be possessed in the state, however under Minnesota statutes and rules, it is illegal to introduce them into the wild."

The letter also noted that the Demuths do not have a game farm license; intended for the swans to propagate; allowed them to escape into the wild and have no intention to capture them; and have not reported their escape as required by the statutes.

As he was instructed, Bob Demuth arranged for the capture of the swans, which are now ensconced in their usual winter home -- the Demuths' barn.

"One little girl, she called to find out what happened to Tom and Jerry -- that's what she named them," said Betty.

As usual, the swans will spend the cold months in the shelter -- and confinement -- of the warm barn, but come spring, the Demuths will have to make other arrangements.

"I won't keep them in the barn year-round. That's cruelty to animals," said Bob. "I have offered them to the city, but they don't care to have them. I thought a good place would be the rearing ponds. They could put a fence there, give me a key, and I'd take care of them."

After Bob broached the city about making a gift of the swans, the city council members were informally asked to weigh in on the possibility.

"There was not any consensus, no interest as far as I can gauge," said Mayor Alan Oberloh. "We have to think about what is best for the community, and the cost of putting a fence around (the rearing pond), that's not in the best interest of taxpayer dollars."

If the city already operated some sort of bird or animal facility, Oberloh speculated, acquiring the swans might be a possibility. But, if the birds were to inhabit the rearing pond area and should escape again, they could become a liability to the city.

The Demuths have considered building a fence around their own pond in an attempt to contain the swans, but aren't sure if they want to undertake such an endeavor.

"We could probably keep them if we wanted to," said Bob. "It's not sour grapes; we're just not sure it's worth it."

Bob will continue to take care of the swans for the next several months -- their winter ration of corn was recently delivered -- and ponder their fate come spring.

"I'll probably put them on eBay," he said. "I don't want the DNR to get a hold of them and kill them."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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