- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

STUART, Fla. It's a story almost as old as the sea itself: A wayward sailor, alone on an unfamiliar shore, seeks out inappropriate company.
A new twist on that tale has been playing itself out in Stuart for the past several days, however: An Australian black swan has fallen in love with an outboard motor.
"It's silly … and yet it's sad," said J.R. Rubino, manager of the Treasure Coast Boating Center, site of the romance.
"We'd seen the swan around here before it's striking and hard to miss but since we installed a black Mercury motor on one of our boats here about a week ago the swan just won't leave."
Though no one is sure of the swan's gender, the one thing everyone at the boating center is sure of is that the bird has fallen hard for the Mercury 150 EFI engine attached to a 21-foot Sea Fox fishing boat.
"Most of the time, the swan stays right by the motor's side, nuzzling it and apparently talking to it," Mr. Rubino said.
"And if anyone should approach the boat, the swan quickly rears up to defend it."
The swan is so vigilant that when Mr. Rubino attempted to show the boat to a customer last weekend, he had to let it drift into the St. Lucie River before starting the engine.
"I guess you could say I was waiting the swan out, hoping the boat would drift far enough away from it for me to safely start the engine," Mr. Rubino said.
"Once I did that and got the motor running, the swan chased us until we just got too fast for it."
When he returned to the 25-slip marina, "lo and behold, the swan was there waiting for us."
Mr. Rubino thinks the swan was a passenger aboard an Australian fishing vessel that was docked in Stuart for several months last fall and winter.
Greg Braun, executive director of the Martin County Audubon Society, said Mr. Rubino's theory sounds feasible.
"Oftentimes in cases like these, an exotic bird or other animal is being kept by someone as a pet and simply escapes," said Mr. Braun.
What's different this time is the depth of feeling the swan has evidently developed for an inanimate object "no doubt a symptom of the swan being so far from its natural element," Mr. Braun said.
A large, graceful bird, the black swan is native to Australia and Tasmania. Both sexes are black, with bright red bills that have a white band. Highly social, they usually nest in June and July.
"From the Audubon Society perspective, all I can say is, let the bird go about its business. We really don't encourage the feeding of non-native birds or other wildlife."
As for its affliction with affection, "There's not much you can do about that," Mr. Braun said.
"I guess eventually the swan just has to realize the feeling's not mutual."
Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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