MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The pink flamingo has been immortalized in plastic lawn ornaments, stylized on logos, and has appeared in iconic scenes on the big and small screen, like the opening sequence of Miami Vice.
Most people in South Florida usually only see the rose-colored bird in captivity.
That is, until recently.
Valerie Preziosi, a conservationist and photographer in Big Pine Key, snapped photos of a lone flamingo wading in pristine water in January. Before that, she said there were six flamingos spotted in July of 2020.
Preziosi said the flock seen two years ago were “divided between the salt marshes of Ramrod and Big Torch Keys,” and offered a rare birdwatching experience for residents and birdwatching enthusiasts.
In March, a flamingo and a white goose were seen at a a horse race at Gulfstream park; the flamingo appeared to have been struck by a horse.
A spokesperson for Gulfstream Park said a few flamingos have been spotted in the infield over the last several years.
“There definitely were flamingos in Florida in the 1800s, and unfortunately people hunted the populations here to extinction,” said Dr. Steven Whitfield, a conservation biologist at ZooMiami.
Whitfield said American Flamingos were sometimes hunted for food, and their feathers were plucked for fashion.
“A lot of people thought flamingos were non-native because the history was just so unclear,” Whitfield said.
So when the birds started making appearances, he and his group of scientists wanted to know where they came from.
That’s when they took note of a trio of flamingos near Key West in 2015. After a storm chased two of them away, one lone bird remained. They named it Conchy.
“Conchy showed up at the naval air station in Key West. We were able to capture Conchy and put a satellite transmitter on him,” Whitfield recalled. “We expected him to go to Cuba or the Bahamas and to leave Florida pretty quickly. But he ended up staying around for two years.”
Whitfield says his team worked with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission to re-designate flamingos as “native” in 2018, although FWC told Local 10 News the pink birds were always thought of as natives.
Could the flamingos be making a comeback in the wild?
“It looks like they are, and that’s really encouraging,” Whitfield said. “It’s such an iconic bird for Florida. I think everyone would like to see them return it’s just a question of how we do that.”