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‘Bully’ swans marking their territory at Harrisburg’s Italian Lake

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When the City of Harrisburg welcomed its newest guests a few weeks ago, it wasn't expecting to have to deal with a bullying problem.

Although, this is exactly what has happened since bringing four swans -- two white, and two black -- to Italian Lake Park in Uptown Harrisburg.

"The white swans were here first," says Peggy Grove, who cares for the swans and feeds them daily. "They’re bigger, and now we’ve got a bully on our hands."

The bully is the white swan Romeo, and he is hardly a romantic.

City officials, with help from the Friends of Italian Lake community group, are renting the swans for the summer. They come from a farm in Halifax, Dauphin County. The white swans, named Romeo and Juliette, arrived a few days before the black swans, which the city named Horace and Myra. By the time the late-comers got to the lake, Grove says Romeo wasn't having any of his new pond-mates.

"He's protecting his territory," Grove says of Romeo.

Mostly, he's protecting his food. When Horace and Myra arrived at the lake, sometimes they would get fed before their white counterparts. This didn't go over too well with dominant male Romeo, who would then chase the black swans away from the food.

"If (the white swans) think (the black swans) are getting food, (the white swans) want the food and they chase them away," said Cynthia Mobis of Harrisburg, who comes to Italian Lake to eat lunch and says she watches the swan bullying first-hand everyday.

In response, two more black swans were recently brought in, "to make a gang, so to speak," Grove says.

She's realized that meals continue to be the main reason why the larger, white swans push around the black swans, and much of it has to do with lake visitors feeding the swans themselves.

Often times, families will walk around the lake with their children, tossing pieces of bread to the swans. Bad idea, says Grove.

"Their diet is cracked corn and lettuce. They shouldn't be eating things like bread and rices," she says. "I know its tempting to have little ones come and feed them but they can be aggressive and they can be scary and we don’t want either of those things."

The swans have also been known to bite, and when the white swans see the black ones getting fed first, they get extra aggressive.

Grove says leave the feeding up to the professionals.