Does the occasionally aggressive behavior of a swan nicknamed Fred make him an unwelcome ugly duckling, or is he a symbol of beauty in need of understanding from the humans who live nearby in a south Leawood neighborhood?
By RICK HELLMAN
Special to The Star
That was the question members of the Tuscany Reserve Neighborhood Association board of directors were scheduled to discuss at their first-quarter meeting Tuesday night
The fate of Fred has lately divided some of the 80 or so homeowners in Tuscany Reserve, which includes a small pond near 139th and Canterbury streets.
Deborah Haas’ home backs up to the private lake where Fred lives, and she said she has seen people — mainly children and teens — hit, spit at and otherwise harass the bird.
“I have seen people be mean to him, and I have seen him get out of the water and come after them,” Haas said. “I think people misinterpret what he does. It’s like what a bully does. … It’s really not very neat to do — to people or to an animal.”
Haas has been among those who give bread to handyman Steve Rockwood, who works for some Tuscany Reserve homeowners and who takes it upon himself to regularly feed Fred. After learning that grain would be better for Fred, Haas bought some at a local bird center and planned to place it in an existing feeding station on the pond’s earthen dam ridge.
“One or two people think it’s a bad thing for our lake,” Haas said. “But it’s been his home for longer than most people who have lived here.”
Rockwood says that Fred has lived in and around the pond for six or seven years, and that he once had a mate, who has since died. One of the area’s homebuilders apparently installed the pair.
Fred’s wings have been clipped, so he can’t fly away. If the neighbors decide he has to go, he will have to be moved to another location, perhaps to a bird sanctuary.
Rockwood, too, has seen Fred respond to bullying behavior by humans. There is a sign on the blacktop trail bordering the pond warning of his possibly aggressive behavior.
“Fred has come out of the water and attacked people after being teased,” Rockwood said. “He stands up for himself.”
But one Tuscany Reserve neighbor, who asked not to be publicly identified, said she and her husband were simply walking near the water’s edge one day last spring when Fred attacked them with provocation.
“I was walking along the path, talking to my daughter on the phone,” the woman said. “My husband said ‘Watch out for Fred’ … and then his voice gets more alarmed and he said, ‘Watch out!’ … Fred was out of the water, walking fast. His neck was out and his wings were out, running for me.”
The woman said her husband grabbed Fred by the neck and one wing, at which point Fred went limp, and they were able to get away. But not before Fred bit the man on the thigh, leaving a bruise.
The woman said she and her husband have not walked around the pond since.
“I’m afraid a child is going to get hurt,” she said. “If my husband had not been there to protect me, I would have been seriously hurt.”
She cited a 2012 incident in a Chicago suburb, in which a man in a kayak drowned after being attacked by a swan.
John Martin, president of the Tuscany Reserve Homeowners Association, said he understands the feelings of those on both sides of the issue. He thinks Fred’s fate should be decided democratically. The board was not scheduled to take final action until after the press time of 913.
“It’s a community decision to make,” Martin said. “If community members feel strongly one way or another, there could be a special meeting.”