MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Florida. – The flamingo has been immortalized in plastic lawn decorations, stylized in logos and appeared in iconic scenes on the big and small screen, like the Miami Vice opening sequence.
Most South Florida residents usually only see the pink bird in captivity.
That is, until recently.
Big Pine Key conservationist and photographer Valerie Preziosi snapped photos of a lone flamingo wading through crystal clear water in January. Before that, she said there were six flamingos spotted in July 2020.
Preziosi said the flock seen two years ago was “split between the Ramrod Salt Flats and Big Torch Keys,” and provided a rare birding experience for residents and birdwatching enthusiasts.
In March, a flamingo and snow goose were spotted at a horse race at Gulfstream Park; the flamingo looked like it had been hit by a horse.
A Gulfstream Park spokesperson said a few flamingos had been spotted in the infield in recent years.
“There were definitely flamingos in Florida in the 1800s, and unfortunately people were hunting populations here to extinction,” said ZooMiami conservation biologist Dr. Steven Whitfield.
Whitfield said American flamingos were sometimes hunted for food and had their feathers plucked for fashion.
“A lot of people thought the flamingos weren’t native because the history wasn’t clear,” Whitfield said.
So when the birds started appearing, he and his group of scientists wanted to know where they came from.
That’s when they noticed a trio of flamingos near Key West in 2015. After a storm chased two away, a lone bird remained. They named him Conchy.
“Conchy reported to Naval Air Station Key West. We were able to capture Conchy and put a satellite transmitter on her,” Whitfield recalled. “We expected him to go to Cuba or the Bahamas and leave Florida pretty quickly. But he ended up staying for two years.
Whitfield says her team worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to redesignate flamingos as “native” in 2018, though FWC told Local 10 News that pink birds have always been considered native.
Could flamingos return to the wild?
“It looks like they are, and that’s really encouraging,” Whitfield said. “He’s such an iconic bird for Florida. I think everyone would love to see them back, it’s just a matter of how we do that.
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