George and Grace don’t wear physical crowns on their heads. In fact, they aren’t even human.
But the pair might as well be royalty in Sugar Lakes, where neighborhood residents recently fought off a threat to the swans’ throne.
After nesting in the neighborhood in April and receiving 55 days of care from concerned residents, the two mute swans and their baby were released into the community’s lake May 30 on the advice of a local swan expert. It was a stress-inducing decision on the part of the neighborhood, because there were reports of alligator sightings in the lake less than two weeks beforehand.
“It was horrible,” Sugar Lakes resident Margaret Chun said, “and every few hours we would all drive around trying to locate the swans and make sure the baby was still there.”
The worry was not necessarily for George and Grace, but for their baby, which didn’t yet have the ability to fly away if the gator attacked. The community raised $450 of the $700 needed to hire a company to remove the alligator, which was captured June 11 – before it encountered the swan family.
“Thankfully they didn’t get near the gator and it didn’t come to that end of the lake,” Chun said.
Chun is one of three women in the Sugar Land neighborhood who took charge of caring for the swan family – George and Grace are known as the resident “Prince” and “Princess” to some – when it first nested in the area in early April. She and two others, Diane Barnes and Christina Nguyen, have been called “The Swan Ladies” within the neighborhood.
“The swans are definitely a huge part of the community,” Barnes said. “People just love them and they’ve all embraced them.”
During the day, one or more of the ladies could be seen giving the swans a refreshing shower with a hose, bringing them fresh vegetables or filling up their donated baby pool in which they could take a cooling dip to simulate their normal lake habitat. Additionally, the women hung signs in the neighborhood that said “Slow Down ~ Swan Crossing” to warn drivers of cars going too fast as George sometimes made his way to and from the lake.
They also put up a bright orange fence to keep the public from intruding and asked passersby to stand on the sidewalk, with George standing guard over Grace and her eggs all the while.
“We just tried to do everything we could to keep them from getting hurt,” Chun said.
Barnes said residents initially reported sightings of a gator lurking in the lake on May 18 – just five days before they had originally planned to release George, Grace and their recently hatched babies.
A call to the Texas Game Warden on May 29 eventually connected the neighborhood to a wrangler for Gator Country Adventure Park in Beaumont, and the community raised $450 of the $700 needed for the gator’s eventual capture and relocation.
“I thought we couldn’t let them go until we did something about the alligator,” Barnes said.
For two weeks following the swans’ release into the lake, the neighborhood could not always be on watch. And another alligator sighting June 7 prompted wrangler Timothy DeRamus to make his way out to the neighborhood a third time, when he was able to capture the gator and remove it from the lake.
“It was quite an event for the neighborhood that really brought everyone together,” Chun said of the swans’ journey. “It gave people a lot of hope that something nice could happen during this time.”
The enclosed lake within Sugar Lakes has had swans paddling around and nesting for years. About 6-8 months ago, however, George and Grace began to consistently catch everyone’s eye, according to Barnes.
“The funniest part was that since everybody had taken such ownership of them, they had all these different names,” she said with a laugh. “The whole neighborhood has adopted them – they’re just a bunch of moochers because they go from house to house on the lake and everybody feeds them something (from their docks).”
According to information on the city of Sugar Land website, alligators have become more prevalent as more waterways are added to Fort Bend County, and their most active months in the area are from April through July. But the fact that a sighting is not unusual during this current time didn’t make residents any less eager for the gator to be out of their lake.
“It took him three tries,” Barnes said. “I told them if they catch it, call me. And if I don’t answer my phone, you beat on my door so I can get a picture.”
The neighborhood is thankful, Chun said, because the swan family has brought them closer as a community.
“I really welcomed it in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, because we all had something we loved doing all day,” she said.
Walkers and passersby have previously changed their routes to come by and see the swans, according to Barnes, while a group of cyclists from Sugar Creek and other neighborhoods continue to stop by each evening to check in on their progress and hear their story.
They’re one big family, and the resident royalty are safe and sound.
“Even today I can go down where they’re swimming, holler George’s name and he creates a wake paddling over,” Chun said. “He knows who he is, and mama comes after him with the baby.”