Wild pink flamingos return to South Florida

MIAMI-DADE, Fla. – The pink flamingo has been immortalized in plastic lawn decorations, stylized in logos and has appeared in iconic scenes on the big and small screen, such as the opening of Miami Vice.

Most people in South Florida see the pink bird only in captivity. This was until recently.

Valerie Preziosi, a Big Pine Key conservationist and photographer, snapped photos of a lone flamingo wading in pristine waters in January. Before that, she said six flamingos had been seen in July 2020.

Preziosi said the flock seen two years ago was “spread between the marshes of Ramrod and Big Torch Keys,” offering a rare birding experience for residents and birdwatching enthusiasts.

In March, a flamingo and snow goose were seen at a horse race in Gulfstream Park; the flamingo looked like it had been hit by a horse.

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A Gulfstream Park spokesman said a few flamingos have been seen in the grounds in recent years.

“There were definitely flamingos in Florida in the 1800s, and unfortunately people hunted the populations here to extinction,” said Dr. Steven Whitfield, a conservation biologist at ZooMiami.

Whitfield said that American flamingos were sometimes hunted for food or to pluck their feathers and wear them for fashion.

“A lot of people thought flamingos weren’t indigenous because the history was so unclear,” Whitfield said.

So when the birds started showing up, he and his group of scientists wanted to know where they came from.

That’s when they took note of a trio of flamingos near Key West in 2015. After a storm chased away two of them, a lone bird remained. They named him Conchy.

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“Conchy showed up at the Key West Naval Air Station. We were able to capture Conchy and put a satellite transmitter on her,” Whitfield recalled. “We expected him to head to Cuba or the Bahamas and leave Florida pretty quickly. But he ended up staying for two years.”

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Whitfield says his team worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to re-designate flamingos as “native” in 2018, though the FWC told Local 10 News the pink birds were always thought to be they were native.

Could flamingos reappear in the wild?

“It seems so, and that’s really encouraging,” Whitfield said. “It’s such an iconic bird for Florida. I think everyone would like them to come back, it’s just a matter of how we do it.”

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