Photo by MichaelZysman/Shutterstock.com
Conchy the flamingo is no ordinary fowl.
It’s not unusual for the Navy Air Station Key West at Boca Chica Field in Florida to have to deal with large birds meandering into its airfield. These fowls present a danger to themselves and the $70 million jets the Navy is working with, so this is a problem that must be handled.
Normally, the Navy scares the lost birds away, and all crises are averted. But when three flamingos found their way onto the Navy’s airfield in 2015, it wasn’t so simple.
Navy Air Station Key West - Photo by majicphotos/Shutterstock.com
How Conchy the Flamingo Made History
Two of the flamingos were no issue, but one of the pink creatures, later named Conchy, wouldn’t leave when the Navy used its common tactics to usher the birds elsewhere.
“Conchy would not leave,” Zoo Miami conservation biologist Steven Whitfield told Nancy Klingener of WLRN in 2018. “They couldn’t harass him away.”
It just so happened that Zoo Miami had been on the lookout for a flamingo to tag and track with a satellite, aiming to prove the bird’s long-time existence in the Sunshine State. It’s illegal to release any non-native animals into the wild, which means that Florida could not be used as a repopulation destination for these beautiful birds.
Conchy wouldn’t leave, but he could be captured. The USDA, Key West Wildlife Center, and the Navy joined forces to get him under wraps, and secure him they did. Researchers fitted the fowl with a tracking device and released him back into the wild, using proof of flamingos found in the Everglades in the 2000s that had the same tags as chicks born in Mexico, thus proving they were not escaped from captivity.
Before sending Conchy back out, he was rehabbed and cared for to ensure he was fully healthy for a return to the wild. He stayed at the Key West Wildlife Center for three weeks, and when the storm that forced the three flamingos onto the airfield passed, he was released near Snake Bight in the Everglades, where the other two flamingos had been recently spotted again, making it likely the best place to let Conchy go free.
Just one week later, Conchy was found again in Everglades, this time even thinner and in rougher shape than before. He was taken to Zoo Miami and then spent several weeks in care, recovering from a liver parasite that he’d consumed while eating snails. But he made it through, and he was again released into the wild for a second time, this time near the border of the park to allow Conchy to make up his own mind on where to go next.
It turned out, Conchy didn’t go too far. He remained in the Florida Bay and was sometimes with other flamingos, offering up a lot of insight into the existence of flamingos in Florida.
“He proved that flamingos can live year-round in Florida Bay,” Peter Frezza of the Audubon of Florida told WLRN. “Florida Bay can sustain flamingos. On an annual basis. Which is pretty cool.”
Seascape of Florida Bay as viewed from the Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park - Photo by WilliamSilver/Shutterstock.com
Conchy’s tracker didn’t last too long after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in 2017, though the flamingo was seen well after the storm passed through, ensuring he survived the hurricane. He is the first and only flamingo to be marked with a band in the United States, and his potential impact on the future of flamingos in Florida can be massive.
With the information gathered from Conchy, it seems as though these fantastic fowls are neither escapees nor alien species to Florida - they’re natives. That completely changes the story of flamingos in Florida, and we have a very brave flamingo (and plenty of hard work from biologists, conservationists, and more) to thank for this discovery!