When flamingos first started being sighted in South Florida again, it was thought they might have just been renegade birds from local zoos or parks. After one returned a few years ago in the Everglades with a leg band tagged in the Yucatan, and a flock of 140 ended up in West Palm unexpectedly, it’s said that the once rare birds, which were hunted extensively in Florida for their plumes, will be flocking this way more.
“I’ve seen about a half dozen in the Keys over the years,” said Mark Hedden, the executive director of the Florida Keys Audubon Society. “And, they are usually traveling alone.”
The first one he saw was about a decade ago. “When they show up it is very random,” he said about some wintering here and some staying during the summertime.
The flamingo that has been sighted on Grassy Key the past couple weeks draws bird enthusiast Julie Elgersma to the east side of Tropical Street daily. “It’s odd to see a flamingo here, I’ve been searching my whole life,” she said about the same spot she commonly sees roseate spoonbills. “The flamingo doesn’t even notice we are here, and he’s usually too far away for us to disturb it.”
She added that in the morning time there is often a decent crowd of bird watchers checking out the flamingo. “And, I always see the mailman there in between stops on his route,” she said. The bird leaves around dusk.
Marathon resident Bernardo Sanchez said he saw three flamingos about a month and a half ago in the same spot. Only one remains. “I just happened to be looking at the sky when they flew over,” he said. He’s a dedicated photographer of birds and has a huge collection of stunning photographs from around the world on his Facebook page.
As for Hedden, he was on his way to Marathon from Key West with plans to swinging by the site to see the flamingo. “Many times they slip through the Keys unnoticed,” and added that he didn’t know of any roosting colonies in the Keys.
Photos by: JULIE ELGERSMA and BERNARDO SANCHEZ
Six Flamingo Fun Facts
1. The word “flamingo” comes from the Spanish and Latin word “flamenco” which means fire, and refers to the bright color of the bird’s feathers. The strength of a flamingo’s coloration comes from its diet.
2. Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay only a single egg each year.
3. The backward bending “knee” of a flamingo’s leg is actually the bird’s ankle. The actual knee is very close to the body and is not visible through the bird’s plumage.
4. A flock of flamingos is called a stand, colony, regiment or a flamboyance.
5. Flamingos have a wild lifespan of 20-30 years, but in captivity can live as long as 50 years.
6. Don Featherstone of Massachusetts is the inventor of the pink plastic lawn flamingo, which has been gracing lawns since 1957.