Flamingos in Bonita Springs, Florida in an undated photo. Rose Ungvari / 500px / Getty Images
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Once a native species of Florida, American flamingos mostly disappeared in the state due to hunting around the turn of the twentieth century. These days they are mostly found in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Recently, the exotic birds — whose pink feathers come from their diet of brine shrimp and algae containing carotenoids — have made their way into Florida, the Carolinas and as far north as Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania after being blown off course by last month’s Hurricane Idalia.
“The flamingos were just hanging out and sleeping in about a foot of water near the shore,” said Jacob Roalef, a birdwatching guide from Ohio, as CNN reported. “They would wake up and drink some water or look up if a gull flew overhead.”
According to eyewitnesses, some of the flamingos in Florida appear to have come from the Yucatán peninsula, reported The Guardian.
“They continue to pop-up along the Gulf, including here in Treasure Island. They were brought in from Cuba on the back-end of Hurricane #Idalia. Be on the lookout this weekend if you’re going to the beach, might be lucky enough to see a few!” Matt Devitt, chief meteorologist at WINK News in Southwest Florida posted on X.
At the Outer Banks in North Carolina, flamingos were spotted at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
“It’s a special experience because… after a while, you get used to seeing all the common birds that are here; so to see something different is really uplifting,” said retired U.S. Army doctor Loren Erickson, as The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Nate Swick, digital communications manager for the American Birding Association, said it was likely that the flamingos were swept up by Hurricane Idalia, reported NPR. Swick said, while it was a “fairly common phenomenon,” it’s not something that typically happened with flamingos.
“We’re seeing flamingos all over the place. We’re seeing them in places that we didn’t expect them,” Swick said, according to NPR.
Swick explained that the rare birds might have gotten caught up in the winds of the storm in the Yucatán or while they were flying to Cuba, or in its eye and went with it until it calmed down.
“We have never seen anything like this,” said Jerry Lorenz, the state director of research for Audubon Florida, as CNN reported. “We will get a flamingo or two following storms [but] this is really unprecedented.”
Cory Christopher, Cincinnati Nature Center’s director of conservation, told a local outlet that the flamingos will likely be able to make their way home, reported The Guardian.