Pink Flamingos Return to the Everglades

pink flamingo stretched neckRecently American flamingos made a comeback to South Florida. While the wading bird no longer breeds in the Sunshine State, a population of flamingos returned to the Everglades after over a hundred years of no-shows. Last year, ornithologists counted an astounding 147 flamingos in just one area of the Everglades. They spotted the birds at Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA2) in Central Florida.

Back in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of flamingos could be seen in parts of Southern Florida. But European settlers drove them away through excessive feather and egg collecting. Now, it appears, flamingos are returning to Florida from the Yucatan – or from zoos. It’s difficult to identify whether these birds are wild or captivity escapees, but researchers are attempting to tag the flamingos with satellite transmitters to learn more about their travel patterns.

While we don’t know exactly why flamingos returned to Florida or where they came from, we do know a lot about their habits. The tall, light-weight birds travel in large flocks and display unique social characteristics. For instance, the birds often mate for life. Even more amazingly, flamingos court one another in flocks. That’s right: an entire tribe of flamingos synchronizes its mating march. Often, each bird engages in “head flagging,” waving its head from side to side. Witnessing such a show can be just as comical as it is impressive.

In a flamingo family, the male and female share child rearing responsibilities. Both parties fashion a nest, incubate the egg and protect it from harm. Once hatched, adult flamingos feed their chicks “crop milk,” which is produced from the throats of both male and female birds. Chicks are born white or gray with straight beaks, and it takes one to two years for them to develop traditional flamingo characteristics like pink feathers and a curved beak.

Why are flamingos pink?

You may wonder why flamingos aren’t born with pink feathers. Well, their vibrant color is entirely attributed to their beta-Carotene diet, which contains a red-orange pigment. Because chicks don’t immediately dine on the crustaceans and plankton adult flamingos do, it takes them a couple years to glow pink. Without these beta-Carotene-rich meals, an adult flamingo’s feathers will turn white.

Why do flamingos stand on one leg?

While it’s not widely known why flamingos stand on one leg, some believe they do so to conserve body heat while resting. Another theory claims the pink birds simply take a one-legged stance for comfort. We hope it’s comfortable since flamingos will stand like this for hours at a time – quite the balancing act!

See flamingos in the Everglades

Flamingos often congregate on mudflats throughout the Everglades. The best way to spot one is by taking an airboat tour, which will expose you to a vast array of Everglades wilderness. To schedule your chance to see a flamingo, click here or contact Captain Mitch’s Everglades Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377.