MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Monday, April 26, is International Flamingo Day, and if there’s anything more quintessentially South Florida than coconut trees and sunshine, it’s the American Flamingo.
However, what most people don’t know is that the American flamingo hasn’t always been classified as a native species of Florida.
According to Zoo Miami Director Ron Magill, Florida’s historic flamingo flocks amazed naturalists in the 19th century but were ultimately decimated by overhunting for food and feathers. Throughout the 20th century, flamingos in Florida were so rare that biologists believed any flamingoes spotted were merely escaped birds from captive populations.
Flamingoes were ultimately classified as a non-native species, which would preclude any active conservation efforts to help them return to Florida.
This is why in 2018, Zoo Miami and conservation partners published a landmark study to correct the record on flamingoes’ status in Florida, showing strong evidence for large historical flocks, evidence for historical nesting, and surprising evidence for slow growth in Florida’s flamingo population since approximately 1950.
With this data in hand, biologists led by Zoo Miami petitioned Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to review newly available data to determine whether flamingos warrant inclusion on Florida’s list of endangered species. FWC conducted a nearly three-year Biological Status Review (BSR), involving FWC staff, external conservation biologists, and wading bird experts.
Last week, the FWC released a draft BSR that does not recommend listing but affirms that flamingos are a native species with a historical presence. The BSR states a need for more research and monitoring for flamingoes within Florida and encourages their return to South Florida.
Zoo Miami has been using cutting-edge research to understand the origins of Florida’s flamingoes. In 2015, Zoo Miami and partners outfitted an American Flamingo, “Conchy,” with a satellite transmitter in an effort to understand the origins of Florida’s flamingoes.
While the team expected Conchy to leave Florida quickly for Cuba, the Bahamas, or Mexico, Conchy remained in Florida Bay for nearly two years before his transmitter failed. This ultimately provided no information on his origins but suggested flamingoes may find Florida a suitable home. The Zoo’s research team is currently working with partners on genetic analysis of flamingos through their range to better understand the origins of Florida’s birds.
Therefore, thanks in part to the tremendous efforts of Zoo Miami and its director, Ron Magill, in collaboration with several organizations and individuals, they created the Florida Flamingo Working Group (FFWG). The FFWG is a coalition of scientists and conservationists who share a mission to promote conservation and awareness of American Flamingos in Florida and throughout their range. Its goals are to help Florida’s native flamingo population recover, to ensure healthy habitats for flamingos everywhere, to help coordinate research and management needs for flamingos, and to raise awareness of flamingo conservation in Florida and beyond.
Because of their combined efforts, the American flamingo is now officially recognized as a native species of Florida. However, the group is continuing to work together to help establish native populations within the state.