Florida’s Flamingos… natives?

One can see flamingos all over the place in Florida. Unfortunately, they are not usually wandering around free in the wild. They also tend to be one dimensional and are often found clustered in odd green booths around the customer service desks of Publix Super Markets. The most recognizable flamingo in Florida is the one pictured in the Florida Lottery logo.

According to Audubon of Florida, “At the time of the arrival of Europeans to Florida, there was a small breeding population of Flamingos in extreme southern Florida — this would have been the northernmost extent of their Caribbean range. Since that time, their range has diminished and flamingos no longer breed in Florida. Occasional sightings of flamingos in the southern reaches of Everglades National Park are thought to be birds that are vagrants from the Yucatan population. Flamingos seen elsewhere in the state are likely escaped birds from captive wildfowl collections.”

The flamingo has not been known  to live here for extended periods of time, which are just some of the requirements for a bird species to be considered a “native species” animal within a particular region. Flamingos make their homes in Europe, Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Caribbean, or American, flamingo may visit our area for a short time while searching for food, but it has not been noted to permanently live in our region of the world. Sometimes small numbers of flamingos (they usually have flocks numbering in the hundreds of thousands) are driven into areas where they normally do not make their homes. This is generally due to a change in food sources or due to the effects of drought. The flamingos that we see here in Florida are generally ones which have been brought in for display purposes in zoos, etc. Their wings are generally pinned or trimmed to keep them within their areas. There have been a few “escapees” due to accidental release, or due to release because of natural disasters such as hurricanes. Generally these birds will stay only for a short while, but they migrate on to more suitable habitat areas and never seem to make us their permanent home”

Flamingos are generally non-migratory birds. However, due to changes in the climate and water levels in their breeding areas, flamingo colonies are not always permanent. This is especially true in Florida where wild breeding colonies of the bird do not exist. Populations of Caribbean, aka American, flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) are limited to Yucatan, parts of the West Indies, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands, and the northernmost tip of South America (Sea World Education Department).

a flock of 16 flamingos

It’s easier to see a plastic flamingo on a lawn than a feathered one in the Florida wilds. The gentleman famous for inventing this pop-symbol piece of yard-art kitsch is Donald Featherstone

An art school graduate, he created his masterpiece (which he named “phoenicopteris ruber plasticus”) in 1957 for Union Products, a now defunct New England company that made plastic animals. Perhaps you think Mr. Featherstone’s creation is tacky and tasteless, but many retro-cool aficionados would disagree with you.

Flocked is a relatively new term in Americana. It means somebody who likes you, or maybe doesn’t like you, sneaks into your yard at night and decorates the lawn with a flock of tacky, plastic flamingos.


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