Cape Cod Flamingo: Fabulous Fowl Found in Massachusetts

In recent times, we have seen flamingos turn up in some strange corners of this country, but none are more wild than the sighting this past week: a flamingo in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

You read that correctly. Massachusetts, a not even remotely tropical state, has experienced a flamingo touchdown.

It remains to be seen if this is an escaped flamingo, which would still be cool but significantly less exciting, or a wild bird that somehow found itself about 1,200 miles north of Miami. Regardless, this is not your everyday occurrence.

“This is monumentally rare,” Mark Faherty, a science coordinator at Cape Cod’s Mass Audubon, told Ava Berger of The Boston Globe. “Anytime you can get a first state record - that’s a big deal.”

This American flamingo marks the first of its kind noticed in Massachusetts since 1985 when a pink bird found a way out of its captivity. Two flamingos were spotted in the New England state in 1964, too, but those were also escapees. As of yet, this latest Massachusetts flamingo has not been linked to any zoo, aviary, or conservatory.

It might be the same bird that was seen on the east end of Long Island, New York, a couple of weeks ago, another anomaly that has bird watchers and enthusiasts alike enthralled. To prove such would be quite the task, though.

Cape Cod Flamingo: Do Flamingos Live Up North Now?

No. Well, kind of, but no.

Flamingos are not native to almost the entirety of the United States. Florida is the only state that can claim the bird as a resident, though its flamingo population is only now beginning to exist after decades of disappearance. The fabulous fowl is not native to the beach states even just a bit north of Florida, like South Carolina and Alabama. Flamingos are absolutely not taking up regular refuge and repopulating in places like New York and Massachusetts. In this way, they do not live up north now.

However, as climate change has impacted weather throughout the world and flamingos are returning to the Sunshine State, more and more flamingos are likely to be seen in non-traditional locations around America. Not because they have immigrated north for a new life, but because storms and other factors send them up.

Though we can’t know for certain, Hurricane Idalia is probably behind this Cape Cod flamingo sighting, the flamingo seen on Long Island, as well as every other weird flamingo spotting across the eastern portion of the U.S. over the last year.

In 2023, Hurricane Idalia ripped through the Caribbean, and it messed a lot of flamingos up. Dozens of flamingos were displaced to at least 11 states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas. The storm came at the time when flamingos tend to migrate south for the winter. The strong winds and disorienting conditions likely sent the flamingos on the incorrect course.

“Greater flamingos, which is a different species, have been documented to fly 180 degrees the wrong way when they migrate,” Jerry Lorenz, the state director of research for Audubon Florida, said to Meredith Deliso of ABC News. “I think this bird was probably here in Florida and was going, ‘I’m going back to my home in the Yucatan or Cuba,’ or wherever it is, and flew in the opposite direction.”

This flamingo seen in Cape Cod is not a Greater flamingo, but Lorenz could be onto something. It is the most logical explanation, though he did also admit to ABC News that flamingos are “weird birds” that sometimes exhibit inexplicable behavior.

Assuming that this flamingo has been stuck north of its usual habitat since the storm, which hit land near Big Bend, Florida, on Aug. 30, indicates that it has found some way to live in the past months. That probably didn’t happen in Massachusetts or anywhere north enough that water freezes in the winter, but if it is indeed misplaced thanks to Hurricane Idalia, it probably didn’t go all the way home, then leave again to summer in Cape Cod.

“We know from one bird tracked in the early 2000s, that when they get displaced like this, they don’t go back home,” Faherty told ABC News. “They tend to turn into permanent hurricane refugees and just sort of wander around wherever they end up.”

In this way, it is possible for more flamingos to live longer portions of their lives in the north as climate change brings about more intense and frequent storms to the Caribbean. Additionally, as more flamingos are reintroduced to Florida, the more likely it will become that the birds migrate north for some portion of the summer, accidentally or intentionally. This is why, in some ways, you could argue that flamingos live in the north now, or at least will in the upcoming decades. But to say so patently in 2024 would be disingenuous.

Will It Stay in Massachusetts?

It's impossible to truly know this, but if it doesn’t get out by winter, it likely won’t ever leave.

It’s been a few days since this bird was last eyed, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone. It could still be lurking around Cape Cod in out-of-view areas. It could also be in Nova Scotia by now. It could no longer be alive. Until it turns up, there is no way to know its location or status.

But it can’t stay in that part of the world forever and survive. Once the temperatures drop, there won’t be much in the way of food for the flamingo. Given the preference for life on earth to continue living, you shouldn’t expect this pink bird to hang around that far north for long.