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Flamingoes in Florida: Back for good? Birders spot them some years

For years, the only flamingoes in Florida were at zoos, Hialeah Race Track or decorated people’s lawns.

Just when the Audubon Society had announced flamingoes were back, a flock that had been visiting for annually for several years went AWOL.

A group of scientists in 2020 published a paper made the case that the occasionally seen flamingo in Florida is evidence of a recovering species that disappeared from Florida in the early 1900s.

Flamingoes seen in a remote site in Palm Beach County
Flamingoes have returned to a remote site in Palm Beach County for nine years. (Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District.)

One example of the return of the flamingo is a flock of migrating flamingoes that had returned to the same spot in Palm Beach County for a decade, according to the Audubon Society. The number varied: In 2014, 147 were counted. In 2015, there were eight.

Mark Cook, lead scientist of Everglades Systems Assessment at South Florida Water Management District, said: “They keep coming back every year.”

But then, for several years, the flamingoes didn’t return.

In 2022, however, a few flamingoes appeared in their chosen spot and the Audubon chapter in Palm Beach County organized field trips to see them. (On one trip, four flamingoes were seen and on a second, two.)

The flamingoes have picked a remote location, a water treatment facility in western Palm Beach County,  Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA2). It’s a 9,000-acre man-made wetland designed to remove excess nutrients from the water supply. It is 80 miles north of any spot flamingoes had been sighted in the recent past. (In the 1800s, there were hundreds of thousands of flamingoes along the coast.)

The flamingoes only visit the Palm Beach County site in spring, and scientists don’t know where they come from or where they go.

Flamingoes have been sighted regularly in the Florida Keys and in Everglades National Park. They have also been spotted near Fort Myers and the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida’s Big Bend area. In January 2022 a lone wild flamingo was seen in brilliant contrast to a flock of white pelicans in the Ten Thousand Islands area off Naples.

The Audubon Society says the research group that produced the 2020 paper looked to past records of flamingo sightings.

“The research group analyzed historical evidence of American Flamingos in Florida from narrative accounts and museum records and contrasted that information to sightings of the pink bird. They concluded that American Flamingos once occurred naturally in large flocks in Florida before disappearing in the early 1900’s. Collected data since 1950 add up to 500 observations of American Flamingos in Florida with an increase in frequency and flock size over time.”

Each spring, then, birders wait to see if flamingoes will return and thrive.

flamingoes in florida flamingo gardens feeding birds Flamingoes in Florida: Back for good? Birders spot them some years
Flamingo Gardens, Davie: Flamingoes eat out of your hand. (Photo: David Blasco)

Want to see flamingoes up close and easy?

We have loved seeing flamingoes in two historic Florida gardens:

Flamingo Gardens: has the biggest tree and the largest collection of native wildlife in Florida. It combines history, beauty, flora and fauna for a fun outing. You can hand-feed the flamingoes, located in a beautiful lagoon here.

St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens, St. Petersburg: Starting in 1911, George Turner Sr., an avid gardener, drained a lake in a sinkhole and used the rich soil to plant fruit trees, flowering bushes and Royal Palm trees. This historic garden in downtown St. Petersburg has a flock of flamingoes in a lovely setting.

Flamingoes at Historic Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Flamingoes at Historic Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Birding resources:

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