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Flamingoes in Florida: Back for good? Birders spot them more frequently

Last updated on December 17th, 2021 at 06:52 pm

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

Today, however, the Audubon Society says flamingoes are back, and maybe for good.

After several years of study, a group of scientists in 2020 published a paper that 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 has returned to the same spot in Palm Beach County for a decade, according tothe Audubon Society. The number varies: In 2014, 147 were counted. In 2015, there were eight.

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

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.

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.”

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