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Flamingos need a tropical climate and plenty of saltwater to roam, feed, and congregate in. The United States has a handful of varying climates within its borders, but most of it isn’t tropical and home to plenty of bodies of saltwater. You know you can’t go to Kansas and see a flamingo outside of a zoo (unless you happen to find this lone wolf flamingo flying around), but do flamingos live in one of the few places in America that does fit the description flamingos desire: Florida?
Do Flamingos Live in Florida?
Yes, flamingos do live in Florida!
Flamingos have been spotted in the state many times throughout history. Florida is just about the only place within the United States where you can reasonably see a flamingo out doing its thing. Now, they’re not so abundant than you can guarantee a week-long trip to the southern state will mean flamingo sightings, but if you have a hope of catching a glimpse of one of these fabulous fowls living their lives out in the wild and don’t want to cross an international border, Florida is really the only place you can go.
The stage could be set for Florida to sustain permanent flamingo populations for the first time in over a century https://t.co/9h0g78Y6QI— National Geographic (@NatGeo) February 1, 2022
Most of the flamingos in Florida are held in captivity, though, so your best bet to see one of them is to visit a zoo or other animal sanctuary. That’s the case for many places, though. The difference in Florida is that there really are some flamingos that live in the wild there.
“It’s a mega-rarity, but I have seen them in flooded fields in West Palm, down near Snake Bight in the Everglades and near Flamingo in Monroe County,” Roberto Torres, a field representative for The Nature Conservancy’s Miami program, said in an article on the program’s website. “They’re out there.”
Are Flamingos Native to Florida?
Now, this one is a bit more complicated.
For a long time, it was assumed that flamingos were not native to Florida, and that those who made it up to the southernmost state in the Lower 48 were temporary visitors from Cuba, the Yucatan, and other parts of the Caribbean.
Not only were flamingos not considered native to Florida, but they were viewed as an invasive species at one time. The flamingo population in South Florida was much higher in the 1800s, but hunting and consumption dwindled the numbers in a major way.
“So through the 1800s, there were large flocks of flamingos in far southern Florida. But people were eating them for food. And later were hunting them for feathers to adorn fancy hats, and by around 1900, the flamingos had been totally wiped out in South Florida,” Steven Whitfield, a conservation and research specialist with Zoo Miami, told Here & Now’s Robin Young in 2019. “However in the late 1920s, early 1930s, wealthy people moved down to Florida and started in some cases importing flamingos to live in their wealthy estates. So flamingos were established as captive animals in Florida, and since then, it’s always been unclear whether flamingos that people do see around Florida are the last surviving flamingos or whether they’re escapes from captive colonies.”
But that assumption has been called into question in recent years. A 2018 study used a combination of satellite trackers, aerial surveys, and a deep dive into old archives to conclude that flamingos are more than likely native to Florida.
Does It Matter If They’re Native?
On the surface, it might seem like a distinction that makes no difference. Native or not, they’re there now, right? While that is true, whether or not the bird is native to Florida does make a huge difference in how the species is handled.
If flamingos are not native to Florida, then they would be an invasive species, meaning that humans should and would work to remove the animal from the area. But if they are native to Florida, then that shifts to a conservation movement to ensure safe living inside the state.
“It’s certainly relevant for our conservation policy,” Whitfield said to Young. “It’s easy to envision flamingos as a, in Florida, as a conservation story. People hunted them to extinction and maybe we should bring them back. On the other hand, if they are non-native species, our conservation target should be for removing them from the environment.”