CHICAGO — To the residents of the Bay Colony Drive condo complex near Des Plaines, Ill., Anthony Hensley was responsible for a small but important piece of their peace of mind.
Hensley came around regularly to tend to the swans that made their home at a complex retention pond to help keep geese away. Residents noted his professionalism and marveled that the goose dropping problem had all but vanished.
But Monday, his loved ones were left struggling to understand how Hensley — an experienced kayaker who retained the athletic build of his days playing high school football — could have drowned while on a job they said he’d held for about a decade.
Witnesses told police that Hensley, a 37-year-old resident of the Villa Park suburb of Chicago and father of two young daughters, drowned after he was attacked by a nesting swan early Saturday morning, causing his kayak to topple. The bird continued to lunge at him aggressively as he struggled to make it to shore before disappearing under the water, authorities said.
“It just terrible; no words can describe it,” his stepmother, Tammy Hensley, said Monday. “We are all very upset, but I can’t stop thinking about his two daughters.”
Family members said Hensley worked for North Barrington, Ill.-based Knox Swan and Dog LLC, which places the birds in ponds as goose deterrents. The company also uses dogs to chase geese away from area ponds, grassy properties and golf courses. A company representative could not be reached for comment Monday.
An OSHA representative said Monday that the workplace safety agency has launched an investigation into Hensley’s death, and police were also investigating.
Raymond Hensley Jr., described his brother as someone who could light up a room and turn a bad moment into something good.
“He’s like a rock star that never played an instrument,” Raymond Hensley said. “He just had that type of personality. He took life seriously but enjoyed life to its fullest.”
Anthony Hensley’s main motivation, his family said, was to provide for his wife Amy, to whom he had been married for 10 years, and their daughters Hayden Rose, 3, and Gabriella, 1.
“He would do anything for them,” Tammy Hensley said. “Everything he did was for them.”
Authorities said they were called to the scene at around 7 a.m. Saturday after a witness saw Hensley in his canoe being circled by a swan and then saw him go into and then under the water.
Paramedics arriving on the scene were unable to find Hensley, prompting dive crews to join the search and scour the 50-foot-deep pond, said Tony Brzezniak, deputy area commander for the Cook County Sheriff’s police. They located Hensley at around 7:50 a.m., and he was taken to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, where he was pronounced dead at about 8:15 a.m.
Using swans to chase away geese is an effective practice, experts said, because swans larger, territorial and will live in non-native landscapes. They’re also not afraid to compete with other animals for resources.
Swans, like many creatures, will defend their territory vigorously, especially when their young are involved, said Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology for the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
“Swans are certainly perfectly happy to attack something that’s much larger than them,” Sullivan said. “It’s mama with her babies, and mama with her babies is always ferocious.”
Though swans may seem serene and are pretty to look at, most people don’t realize how strong and aggressive they can be, said Doug Stotz, a senior conservation ecologist with the Field Museum. He said he’s heard tales of people being attacked or injured from swans but has never heard of someone dying after a bad encounter.
Experts also said swans can be particularly nasty during the nesting and breeding season, which begins in early spring and goes through the summer.
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