Smithsonian National Zoo's Oldest Flamingo, Betty, Dies at 67

betty the flamingo
Photo by WendyB.Cahill/

Betty, the oldest flamingo at the Smithsonian National Zoo, was found dead in her habitat on Jan. 25. She was 67.

Not only was Betty the Smithsonian’s most senior flamingo, she was also the oldest Caribbean flamingo in the North American population. The median life expectancy of a Caribbean flamingo under human care is 26, illustrating just how extraordinary Betty was.

Betty saw the world change quite a bit during her life. Zookeepers assume she was born in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration and arrived at the National Zoo in 1976 when Gerald Ford was president, though a Jimmy Carter election victory was imminent. When she came to D.C., “Silly Love Songs” by Wings was atop the Billboard 100 and the first “Rocky” movie was released. Smart phones? You mean payphones?

In her 46 years in the nation’s capital, Betty grew to be the matriarch of the flamboyance stationed at the Smithsonian National Zoo. She had one offspring of her own at the zoo but served as an adoptive mother as zookeepers continually entrusted her to help raise chicks over the years.

“Even if she didn’t have a chick of her own that particular year, she just seemed to take a great interest in the young flamingos - kind of lille a nanny role or a parental role, you could always find her around the young birds,” Sara Hallager, curator of birds at the zoo, told Jacob Fenston of “Because they’ve been raised by us, they know they’re flamingos but they don’t necessarily act like flamingos should. It takes them a while to get to know how to sort of ‘speak flamingo.’ Betty would quickly gravitate towards these young birds and sort of take them under her wing, and teach them how to be flamingos.”

She remained entwined with the young chicks at the zoo until her final days.

“Just recently, when two hand-raised chicks did not readily integrate into the flock, Betty patiently interacted with the youngsters and taught them how to be flamingos,” the zoo said in a statement.

The cause of Betty’s death is unknown. The zoo said it will provide a pathology report in the coming weeks and that the bird was healthy for her age.

Betty inspired wonder in thousands of zoo-goers, cared for countless chicks, and stood out among a flamboyance of more than 70 flamingos, all spanning decades. She was a beautiful example of why this creature is so special, and she will long be missed.