July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Alpha swan ruffles feathers in Forest Meadow

Nancy Johnson | The Gazette

His name is Sammy and he’s got a bad attitude.

He can’t stand geese and he chases little children away. In fact, he will threaten just about anyone if he feels they are encroaching on his turf — a five-acre lake in the middle of Medina’s Forest Meadow subdivision.

Forest Meadows homeowners Gene Febus, left, and Brian Neuhauser feed Sammy the Swan, the mascot of their Medina neighborhood’s lake. In return for the year-round meals, Sammy scares off Canada geese. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NANCY JOHNSON)

“He hit me on the arm once —it was like being hit by a hammer,” said Brian Neuhauser, who lives in the neighborhood. “I had a bruise for a month.”

Yes, Sammy has ruffled a few feathers in among Forest Meadows’ residents, but Neuhauser said they rarely complain about the cantankerous and highly territorial swan.

“We couldn’t use the lake if it weren’t for Sammy,” he said. “He keeps the water free of Canada geese.”

Protected under both the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Ohio state law, Canada geese pollute water with their pathogen-laden feces.

The only legal way to rid an area of geese is to scare them away with non-lethal tactics.

And Sammy is the king of scary.

The lake may be owned by the 23 Forest Meadows homeowners whose houses surround it. But to Sammy, the lake is his.

“Sammy flew in 14 years ago,” said resident Gene Febus, “and I started feeding him. Why? Because he’s pretty. You don’t see something like that around here very often.”

Febus, a World War II veteran, owns one of the homes that back onto the lake. Neuhauser lives just a few doors down. Both are big fans of the beautiful, graceful, bad-tempered swan.

It was Febus who dubbed the white swan Sammy, a mute swan.

“Mute swans do make a few sounds, but they’re less vocal than other swan species,” Febus said, “Mostly Sammy hisses at his enemies.”

Sammy starts his day by pecking at Febus’ sliding glass door around 6:30 in the morning.

“In the beginning I went out to feed him around that time and he learned quickly,” said Febus, whose tiny Yorkshire Terrier Archie seems completely comfortable with Sammy.

According to Neuhauser, whose sleek black dog Ruby also seems at home with Sammy, the swan barely tolerates the neighborhood kids who start swimming in the lake in early springtime.

“You always know when Sammy’s around,” he said. “You can hear the kids yelling and splashing as they try to get out of the lake.”

And although Sammy will spread his wings threateningly, Neuhauser said the big bird has never seriously harmed anyone.

Febus agreed that Sammy has a temper.

“He’s especially territorial in the spring, during mating season,” Febus said, adding that swans are monogamous and usually mate for life. “I tried to fix him up with another swan that settled here, but Sammy wouldn’t hear about it. He chased her away.”

Febus figures Sammy has lost his mate and will never mate again. “He’s going it alone,” he said.

Although ornery, Sammy has managed to make many friends in Forest Meadows. During the winter, Febus breaks up the ice so Sammy can swim on the lake. Many other residents feed him.

Once, when Sammy was accidentally tangled in a line, Febus worked diligently to remove it. “He was trying to beat me with his wings. By the time I was finished, I was covered with mud and sand, but I got him free.”

Neuhauser admitted there is a softer side to Sammy: he enjoys floating on rafts and hitching rides on residents’ boats.

“He’s like a hood ornament, he stays with you,” Neuhauser laughed.

Sammy also likes pecking at anything that’s white.

“It’s the easiest way to distract him if he’s bothering someone,” said Neuhauser, “You just throw a soccer ball in the lake and he’ll play with it all day.”

Febus’ wife once tossed a white bucket to Sammy to keep him out of a neighbor’s yard. “That kept him busy,” Febus said, “he loved beating up on it.”

Truth be told, Sammy rules the Forest Meadows roost and the neighbors are happy to have him.

“It’s a love/hate relationship,” admits Neuhauser, and then adds softly, “But mostly it’s love.”

Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.

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The Gazette is Medina County's daily local news source, serving the community since 1832. Contact The Gazette's news department at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.