Pink flamingos are showing up in increasingly large numbers in the South Florida wild again

Pink Flamingos – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Natalia Barsukova

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fl. – The pink flamingo has turned itself into an icon as a beloved plastic lawn ornament, styled on logos, and appearing on screen both big and small, like in the opening sequence of Miami Vice.

Most South Floridians only see the rose-colored bird in captivity, that is until recently.

A photographer and conservationist in Big Pine Key, Valerie Preziosi took photos of a single flamingo wading in clear waters in January. Before that, she said she spotted six flamingos in July of 2020.

According to Preziosi, the flock seen two years ago offered a rare bird-watching experience for several residents and birdwatching enthusiasts. The birds were divided between the salt marshes of Big Torch and Ramrod Keys.

In March, a white goose and flamingo were seen at a horse race at Gulfstream Park. The poor flamingo appeared to have been hit by a horse.

A Gulfstream Park spokesperson said a few flamingos have been seen in the infield over the last few years.

“There definitely were 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 American flamingos were usually hunted for food, while their feathers were plucked out for fashion.

“A lot of people thought flamingos were non-native because the history was just so unclear,” Whitfield said.

So when these birds began to make appearances, he and his group of scientists wanted to know exactly where they came from.

That’s when they focused on a trio of flamingos found near Key West in 2015. After a major storm chased two of them out of the area, one bird remained. They named him Conchy.

“Conchy showed up at the naval air station in Key West. We were able to capture Conchy and put a satellite transmitter on him,” Whitfield recalled. “We expected him to go to Cuba or the Bahamas and to leave Florida pretty quickly. But he ended up staying around for two years.”

Whitfield says his team worked diligently with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to re-designate flamingos as “native” in 2018, although FWC stated that the pink birds were always considered natives.

Could these beautiful pink creatures be making a comeback in the wild?

“It looks like they are, and that’s really encouraging,” Whitfield said. “It’s such an iconic bird for Florida. I think everyone would like to see them return it’s just a question of how we do that.”
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