Cordova man tends town's swans

Posted: Monday, April 24, 2000

An Alaska AP Member Exchange

CORDOVA (AP) -- People have all sorts of plans for their ''sunset'' years.

Some people move to Arizona to play golf, others concentrate on traveling and spoiling their grandchildren.

Ed King has his swans.

A half-dozen years ago, King, a 55-year Cordova resident, heard about a British Columbia couple who fed the resident swans in Canada's Williams Lake area to keep the birds from starving to death in the winter.

''What a lot of people don't know, is that trumpeter swans don't fly south in the winter like a lot of other birds do,'' King said.

His long experience in Cordova taught him that the trumpeter swans living at Eyak Lake had a tough time in the winter. King, who is on the far side of 70, often saw eagles picking away at swans dead from starvation, or even live birds weakened by hunger.

''When we had real cold weather, the swans would go out in the middle of the lake and tuck their heads under their wings and either starve or get picked off by eagles,'' King said. ''Eagles are the prime predator of these birds.''

When King started feeding the swans, however, he began to see fewer plump eagles around in the winter and more live swans.

''I wish I'd started feeding them (the swans) sooner,'' King said. ''They are Cordova's resident swans.''

King feeds the swans barley grown near Kenny Lake outside Copper Center. He buys it from Bill Sutton's feed store and Sutton trucks the barley south to Valdez, where he puts it on the ferry for Cordova. King picks it up at the ferry dock and hauls it to his garage for storage.

The swans go through about two tons of barley a winter and run up a $700 dollar annual feed bill. King said he would pay it out of his own pocket, if need be, but friends and sympathizers came up with about $600 for feed last winter.

''I want to thank everyone who donated for the feed, and Tony Bocci and the state ferry employees for assistance in the drayage of the feed from Valdez. Thank you all, from the swans and I,'' King said.

King figures he feeds about 130 swans in the winter every morning about 9 a.m. at the bridge at Mile 5 of the Copper River Highway.

''Prior to the 1964 earthquake, that was a tidal area and the swans didn't stay there,'' King said. ''The quake raised the land 6 feet and it was no longer estuarine, so the swans didn't have to fight the tide.''

Biologists usually don't recommend that the public feed wildlife, but King does it in a responsible manner.

''I quit feeding them around mid-March when the lake opens up a bit and they've got more bottom to feed on. I do it so they won't get too dependent on hand-outs,'' King said.

Dan Logan, wildlife biologist for the U.S. Forest Service in Cordova said King is pretty conscientious about his feeding.

''He cuts them off in March and he doesn't start until early winter,'' Logan said.

Starting late in the year is particularly important, Logan said, otherwise some normally migratory birds might decide to stick around for the free food. As it is, Logan said, the only negative that he can see of Kings feeding is that the swan population is maintained at an unnaturally high level.

''If for some reason you stop feeding them, there will be a die-off,'' Logan said.

King said that's why he started feeding the big, white birds in the first place.

''There's certain people who believe you shouldn't be feeding the swans.'' King said. ''But I started this because I didn't want to watch swans die.''

There are other rewards, as well, King said.

''I've learned how to talk their language and sometimes they'll be way out on the lake when the hear me,'' King said. ''Then they say, 'Ed's here with the food. Let's go get some chow.' ''

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