Mike Paugh entered the dark barn and walked through a clutter of miscellaneous items, gracefully making his way to the southeast corner. It is in this corner where a blue tarp hides Ohio Northern’s most prized birds: the three black swans.
Paugh works for the Physical Plant grounds crew, and he is one of several grounds crew employees who care for the black swans (as well as two white ducks) from Thanksgiving until spring.
Because of the life-threatening weather conditions and the lack of food and water resources that are available to the birds during the winter, the three black swans and two white ducks are kept in the white barn beside the president’s house.
“It’s for their health and safety, and so that they don’t get preyed upon,” Grounds Manager John Anderson said.
The winter swan care comes at no additional cost to the university. The birds are kept there every winter, and they are fed bread and lettuce left over from the McIntosh Dining Hall.
On the afternoon of March 24, Paugh and fellow grounds crew workers Dustin Jordan and Gary Tenwalde retrieved the swans from their winter home to set them free. They used a technique to quickly grab their necks with one hand and bodies with the other, making the action look effortless.
While Tuesday’s retrieval may have been simple, it hasn’t always been so easy in the past.
“We’ve had to use rope to get them out of the water before,” Paugh said as he described past struggles in trying to move the swans from their pond to the barn.
Not only are the birds smart, but they are aggressive. Anderson explained that this aggressiveness can make caring for them in the winter difficult.
“Changing their bedding takes two people 2-3 hours because the male [swan] is so aggressive,” Anderson said.
After the grounds crew snatched the swans from the barn on Tuesday, the three crew members sat in the back of a Physical Plant pick-up truck while another member drove them to the pond located behind the Freed Center. Their feet were dangling from the truck’s flatbed while they held the swans close, the swans looking paralyzed in disdain.
When the truck arrived at the pond, Paugh, Jordan and Tenwalde let the swans go. Another year, another successful bird transfer for the grounds crew. The swans are back.