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Birder Sees Sickly Swan in NYC And Bundles it Up For 23-Mile Trek Across Town to Save its Life


It takes a lot to eliminate New Yorkers. Even the sight of a woman dragging a live swan and loading a bicycle onto the subway didn’t cause much of a stir.

“Nobody seems to be mystified,” said Ariel Córdova-Rojas, the schlepper swan The New York Times. “A man was sitting across from me and he was just talking on the phone. I don’t even know if he realized there was a swan in front of him. “

Ariel Cordova-Rojas

While Córdova-Rojas’ appearance on the metro might have been dismissed as whimsical performance art by some, he was in fact performing a very real act of mercy. The swan she had found earlier in the day was sick and she was determined to get him the help he needed.

Cordova-Rojas faced an arduous journey from Queens, through Brooklyn, to the Wild Bird Fund facilities in Manhattan. He started on foot. Several car trips and a period on public transportation later, he was able to carry the sick swan to its final destination, the Wild birds background rehabilitation center located on the Upper West Side of New York City.

When he went bird watching at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens that morning, Cordova-Rojas had no idea how the day’s events would unfold. Fortunately for the ailing female mute swan he encountered, it was all about the right person being in the right place at the right time.

Ariel Cordova-Rojas

Not only is Cordova-Rojas an avid bird watcher, she has also received extensive training in wildlife rescue. Having spent five years as an animal care manager at Wild Bird Fund facilities, she was no stranger to dealing with sick and injured birds.

After assessing the state of the swan, which was calm, lethargic and weak, Córdova-Rojas wrapped the bird in his jacket. Although hampered by having to transport both the bike and the bird, she began planning the complicated rescue.

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Along her route, she was helped by some good Samaritans who took her, her bicycle, and her feathered load to a nearby subway station. During the trip, he hooked up in Brooklyn with his former colleague, Tristan Higginbotham, another animal care manager at the Wild Bird Fund, who is also a volunteer for the New York City Audubon Society.

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Higginbotham said the Audubon Society already had news that the bird was sick, however volunteers had been unable to find the downed swan during previous attempts to locate it.

At the end of the 23-mile hike, a relieved but happy Cordova-Rojas finally turned the swan over to the care of competent Wild Bird Fund staff for evaluation and treatment.

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It might not be how she planned to spend the day, but Cordova-Rojas believes the unexpected adventure was one of the best gifts she has ever been given.

Josh Spector

“That was the perfect culmination of my 20s,” he told The Times. “It was the perfect birthday present to be in nature and save a life.”

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