Flamingle Time! Florida Welcomes Some Unexpected Hurricane Party Guests
First Alachua County record for this species: American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber. Spotted flying through Alachua County, Florida, after Hurricane Idalia passed through the state. Photo by Brent Henderson via the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Flamingos were native to Florida but disappeared from the state around the turn of the 20th century. After about 1925, people started captive colonies of flamingos in South Florida, including a breeding colony at Hialeah Park [Casino, née] Race Track in the 1930s, which still remains … Outside of Hialeah, more than 95% of observations have occurred within the Everglades, Biscayne Bay, and the Florida Keys.” All of this makes the story of Florida’s current flamingo travelers all the more fascinating! – Editor
Hurricanes are synonymous with the Florida experience. And for some reason, so are flamingos. They’re rare in most parts of our state, so a lone flamingo circling above a local lake this week had the birders squawking.
These tall wading birds prefer coastal areas where they sieve tiny invertebrates out of brackish or saltwater lagoons. Colonies of flamingos live in the Bahamas and throughout many islands in the Caribbean. They live along areas of the Yucatán and northernmost South America.
Wild flamingos don’t frequently set foot in Florida, but when they do, they tend to stick to the southern half of the state and keep their visits brief. There’s always the odd sighting here and there before these conspicuous birds move along to more familiar habitats.
Dozens of flamingos were recorded along the Gulf Coast of Florida in the wake of Hurricane Idalia. Which is to be expected. Tropical Storm Idalia swept through western Cuba on its way north, a region known for large breeding populations of these birds.