Fred Kowal, who works for Nicoletti Disposal of Ridgefield Park, was hauling a debris container near the Meadowlands when he saw what officials believe was a female swan resting in the shoulder lane between Exits 16W and 15W.
Kowal, a Palisades Park man who has owned pet birds, pulled over on the western spur of the southbound lanes and went to help.
Standing protectively over the injured swan was another swan, believed to be a male. Kowal said the injured swan could walk, but cuts he observed on its webbed foot and leg apparently made movement uncomfortable.
He tried to herd the two birds underneath a guardrail and into the nearby marsh to safety, but the swan that had been standing ran onto the main highway, forcing cars to a crawl as drivers tried to avert it.
At one point, Kowal tried to use the sandwich from his lunch to bait the birds over the guardrail, but they didn't bite. A New Jersey Turnpike official driving by saw what was happening and stopped to help Kowal move the birds off the shoulder.
After several more unsuccessful attempts, state police shut down the southbound lanes while Kowal, the highway employee and another trucker used a broom in Kowal's truck to brush the birds against the guardrail, push them under it and shoo them to the marsh.
Kowal followed the birds for a time to make sure they didn't return to the highway.
The husband and father of three has a hairless cat named Jinxie and has owned several parakeets and tropical parrots over the years. He said he's been an animal lover all his life and just wanted to help.