Flamingos in Australia: 20 Million Years of History

Modern day Australia is mostly made up of an arid desert and savanna. The lakes, streams, and masses of mud that flamingos need to thrive are not there. As such, flamingos are not present on the massive island. But at one time, flamingos were abundant in Australia.

For somewhere around 20 to 25 million years, many wild flamingos called Australia home. Back then, the Australian outback was littered with lakes that flamingos loved and relied upon for food and shelter. Flamingo life thrived on the island, particularly in the areas near Lake Eyre. With three unique species evolving throughout the course of the long-term, healthy pink-feathered society, the birds were living large on the island.

A lake in southern Australia

“Feeding on tiny crustaceans, which gave them the familiar pink color, these birds evolved to live in shallow lakes and breed during the seasonal blooms of algae and zooplankton,” Trevor Worthy, fossil bird expert and associate professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, told Zona Black of The News Daily in 2020.

What Happened to the Flamingos in Australia?

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and change.

Flamingo communities don’t have roads to maintain or schools to fill, so they don’t collect taxes (at least not in the way that we know them), but they are equally as familiar with death and change as we are. After tens of millions of years in Australia, wild flamingos left the island for good somewhere between 140,000 and 1 million years ago.

During that period, Australia experienced great climate shifts. The outback went from boasting pink salt lakes across its vast, lush expanse to drying out into a rainless, lakeless desert. Flamingos had their habitats chipped away over time.

“The once verdant interior of the country dried out during the last two Ice Ages,” Worthy said in a Flinders University press release in 2020. “When all the lakes dried up, the flamingos were doomed.”

Where Did the Australian Flamingos Go?

Of course, many of the flamingos that were in Australia died as their food and living sources disappeared around them. This was unfortunately the fate of much of the island’s flamingo population. But it’s possible that some of them may have found escape routes.

It is theorized that some flamingos in Australia emigrated north to Asia, specifically southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, where the fabulous fowl can still be found roamed around today. This is why flamingos remain in some Australian bird guides, according to Australian Geographic - Aussies want to be ready just in case they ever show back up. However, the likelihood of that ever happening, at least in the lifetimes of anybody reading this article (including the guy writing it), is slim to none.

Are There Any Flamingos in Australia Anymore?

Nope, not even one, and not even in captivity. Due to fear of disease, it is illegal to bring flamingos into the country. That means that when Chile the flamingo passed away in 2018, it brought to an end the bird’s reign on the island.

For decades, Chile and her friend Greater - who died in 2014 and was believed to be the oldest-ever recorded flamingo (83) - held it down as the only two flamingos flocking around Australia, both inhabiting the Adelaide Zoo.

Greater Flamingo - Photo by JimboMcKimbo/Shutterstock.com

There are no plans to bring any more flamingos into Australia. Massive climate change over the next hundreds or thousands of years could alter the island’s biomes so much that flamingos find it to be a nice place to live again, but none of us would be around to see that. As the country stands now, flamingos have no interest in returning. 

If you’re an Aussie flamingo fan fiending to see the beautiful bird on anything but a screen, you unfortunately need a passport.

1 comment

  • Rusty

    Very interesting. Saw flocks of flamingos in Bonaire when on vacation. Truly beautiful & unique birds. A shame they have been lost to Australia. This past year, during hurricanes, flocks of them were blown “of course” & ended up on lakes in Ohio & Illinois! Crazy! But, I’ve only seen them in Florida & Bonaire. 🩷

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