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Flamingos spotted across Florida after Hurricane Idalia

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says flamingos were native to the state but disappeared at the turn of the 20th century.
Flamingos spotted across Florida after Hurricane Idalia
Posted at 3:27 PM, Sep 05, 2023

After Hurricane Idalia, Floridians have spotted flamingos on various beaches across the state.

Vinnie Fugett, who operates Captain Vinnie's Boat Tour, said he spotted flamingos on Treasure Island Beach the day after the hurricane passed through. 

"I was completely shocked," he said. "After living here for 35 years, my entire life, and being a Florida native, I've never seen flamingos in the area."

Fugett said he has not seen the birds since the initial sighting, but others have spotted the birds throughout Florida's West Coast. People have documented flamingo sightings at St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island Beach and Fort De Soto, areas that do not commonly see the birds. 

Tiffany Burns, senior director of Animal Programs at ZooTampa, said she cannot say for certain if the flamingos will stay.

"The thinking is that they did come by hurricane, that the winds may have taken them a little bit more north than maybe they intended to go. It's hard to say for certain. Everything points toward the hurricane leading them here," said Burns. 

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According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, flamingos were native to Florida but disappeared from the state around the turn of the 20th century. After about 1925, people started captive colonies of flamingos in South Florida, including a breeding colony at Hialeah Park Race Track in the 1930s, which still remains.

In Florida, American flamingos have been observed along much of the state’s coast; however, outside of Hialeah, more than 95% of observations have occurred within the Everglades, Biscayne Bay, and the Florida Keys. In addition, flamingos are increasingly being reported in the shallow treatment wetlands created along the northern fringe of the Everglades, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Florida was once very populated with flamingos, and unfortunately, the feathers were very valuable, and that ultimately led to our numbers depleting to the point where you don't see flamingos in Florida," said Burns.

The FWC treats flamingos as a native species protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. 

"Typically, flamingos are going to live in an area where there's a lot of water. They do go up to dry land for their breeding and nesting, but they're typically going to hang around the wet environment, estuaries, things like that," said Burns.

This story was originally reported by Julie Salomone at Scripps News Tampa.

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