OHIO KEY, Fla. – For the last few weeks, people all over Florida have been treated to a rare sight: pink flamingos in the wild. The rose-colored birds have recently been spotted in the Everglades and hanging around in the Florida Keys.
Local 10′s Janine Stanwood went bird watching and found a group of three flamingos making themselves comfortable in Ohio Key, just south of Marathon.
Soon, residents began stopping to marvel at the sight.
“We were coming home and my wife saw Sunshine Key and she said, ‘That’s where my friend saw the flamingos,’” said Keys resent Brian Phelps. “And I said, ‘Look for a salt marsh.’ We looked down there and we saw them, went home and got my camera, and came back here.”
Jerry Lorenz with Audubon Florida said the flamingos fly across great distances and make crossings between Cuba and the Yucatan. He thinks these flamingos were likely blown here by Hurricane Idalia.
“I think the birds were probably making that crossing, the storms kept getting bigger. They kept trying to go around it and didn’t make it, and just rode along with the storm until it landed in Florida,” Lorenz said. “And they fell out at either side of the storm.”
Since the hurricane, there have been sightings around the country including in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. But most flamingos landed here in Florida.
One, later named Peaches, was found floating and tired off St. Petersburg Beach by a fisherman after the storm. When Lorenz heard about Peaches, he got permission to band it, so he and other researchers could track its movements.
“I was there with that bird in hand, and they are just stunning, and now people are taking pictures of it and reporting it to me,” Lorenz said.
Although the pink flamingo has been associated with Florida and pop culture for years - even appearing in the opening credits of the 1980s show “Miami Vice” — most have only seen them in captivity.
More than a century ago, the birds were hunted to near extinction. Their meat was a delicacy and their feathers were used as fashion.
“Our community is delighted they are able to rest and feed here in peace,” said Big Pine Key resident and conservationist Valerie Preziosi. “They need 50 or more individuals to form a colony so we hope they can either find the established Everglades colony, find their way back home, or even start a new colony here.”
“With Everglades’ restoration, conservation lands, state parks, National Wildlife Preserve, things like that, they got a lot of habitat that’s protected,” Lorenz said.
Scientists are hoping the longer the flamingos stick around, the more they will consider Florida home for good.
“Our hope with this group is that this is the foundation,” Lorenz said. “We’re hoping they find that they like it here and stay. And maybe even someday nest and we’ll have our own population again.”
Photographer Valerie Preziosi shares her images: