FLORIDA — There have been a flurry of rare wild American flamingo sightings throughout Florida’s west coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, which passed through the Gulf of Mexico along the coast before making landfall as a Category 3 storm in the Big Bend area Wednesday afternoon.
Flamingos, generally, tend to stick to south Florida. While the birds have been seen along much of the state’s coast, more than 95 percent of them have been found in the Everglades, Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
But since Idalia hit Florida, groups of the distinctive pink birds — known as a flamboyance — have been spotted up and down the west coast.
“My husband and I were just both amazed,” Jennifer Sparks, a Sanibel resident who snapped photos of the birds and shared them with the News-Press, said. “I felt so lucky to be able to see them. Flamingos are my favorite bird. To see them in the wild here was just incredible.”
The birds were also seen at Bunche Beach, Blind Pass, Charlotte Harbor, Stump Pass and Punta Gorda, the News-Press said.
The city of Treasure Island shared images of the birds hanging out along the shore on its Facebook page Thursday.
“Here’s something you don’t see everyday on Treasure Island — flamingos! This bunch were spotted in front of Treasure Sands on Treasure Island Beach,” the city wrote in a post. “We just wish they could talk so we could ask where they flew in from.”
Flamingos were also spotted further north in Pinellas County, in Clearwater Beach, near the Clearwater Point condo complex, and in Tarpon Springs’ Fred Howard Park, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
On Thursday, a group of flamingos was seen at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge — not far from Tallahassee, which was hard hit by Idalia — according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
The wildlife refuge has been home to a lone flamingo, Pinky, who flew into the area by himself in 2018 during Hurricane Michael and never left.
“Pinky was busy and tucked away at Stoney Bayou,” birder Lisa Lazarus Brown, who shared images of the birds with the Democrat, said. “The new group of three adults and juveniles looked a little confused and hesitant as they slowly walked back and forth in the Lighthouse Pool. The adults did a little stomping for food while the juveniles looked on. In a few instances, the adults nipped at the youngsters as if to tell them, ‘Go find some food.’”
Audubon researcher Jerry Lorenz thinks the flamingos are from Yucatan, Mexico and were traveling to Cuba when the hurricane blew them off course, reports said.
“Usually, we see one here or two (in Everglades National Park of Florida Bay), but this is pretty much all over the state,” he said. “There’s traffic in the Yucatan in that area, and they may have been traveling from the Yucatan to Cuba. And with the storm they got pushed north as the storm grew. I really think that’s what happened.”
Keith Laakkonen, director of the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, agrees with this scenario.
“There’s no way they’re not storm birds,” he said. “The question is: where did they come from? Was it Mexico or Cuba? There are good populations in the Yucatan, and several of the birds that were seen were juveniles. So, these birds are from a breeding population.”