After a Woman Rescued an Injured Swan, Strangers Helped Her Get the Bird Across the City to a Rehab Center

This woman went above and beyond to save a swan in the Big Apple—and some passersby stopped to help.

Ariel Cordova-Rojas holding a female mute swan near the water's edgeJosh Spector
If an animal is in need, Cordova-Rojas says, “I’m going to do whatever I can.”

When Ariel Cordova-Rojas rode her bike to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens, New York, last November, she planned to go hiking and bird-watching. Bingo! A mile into her walk, she spotted a gorgeous female mute swan near the water’s edge. ­Cordova-Rojas, 30, who had worked at the Wild Bird Fund rehabilitation center in Manhattan, knew that mute swans can be aggressive. But as she approached this one, it didn’t move. She was certain that the bird needed medical attention. Cordova-Rojas draped her jacket over the bird’s head to keep it calm, gingerly picked it up, and cradled it in her arms. And then a thought struck her: What do I do now?

Her best bet was the rehab center, but that was across the East River and clear on the other side of town. How was she going to transport a 17-pound swan on her bike all that way? Luckily, some bemused strangers driving by offered her, her bike, and the swan a lift to a nearby subway station.

On the subway, no one seemed particularly fazed by the feathered passenger. One guy, says Cordova-Rojas, was “sitting right in front of me on his phone. I don’t know if he noticed there was a swan in front of him.”

Cordova-Rojas called the rehab center en route, and Tristan Higginbotham, an ­animal-care manager, picked her up at the subway station and drove bird, bike, and rescuer to the facility. There, staff members determined that the swan might have lead poisoning, caused by ingesting weights used on fishing lines.

The staff got the swan back up on her webbed feet. She even made a boyfriend at the center—another injured swan. Sadly, even with all that TLC, the swan contracted a bacterial infection. Two months after Cordova-Rojas came to her rescue, she passed away.

It’s a disappointing ending, but the real story is just how far some people are willing to go to save a swan in the big city—literally. In all, Cordova-­Rojas traveled two hours by foot, car, and subway (while hauling her bike). Says Higginbotham, “That’s the perfect summary of who she is.”

Next, read about the rescue dog who helps his owner nurse baby hummingbirds back to health.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest