Why Don't Flamingos Fly at the Zoo?

Photo by MikeCahill/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever seen a flamingo live and in color, it was probably at a zoo. And while observing these fabulous fowls at the zoo, you almost certainly never saw them lift off the earth. This is because flamingos don’t fly at zoos.

They do fly, though. Flamingos fly to find new sources of food, escape predators, migrate, and whatever else they must get done that requires access to the aerial dimension. In the confines of a zoo, none of these problems exist, meaning flamingos in captivity don’t have much need to fly. But they are animals with urges, and if they could fly, they would.

So, why don’t they?

Why Don’t Flamingos Fly at the Zoo?

Zoos know better than to let their flamingos continue in their care with the ability to take off whenever their hearts desire. That’s why they clip the birds’ wings. Removing their ability to fly makes it much more difficult for them to escape, which is obviously something every zoo in the world would like to avoid.

This is why you are highly unlikely to catch a glimpse of these creatures in mid-air when you enjoy them at a zoo. If you want to witness the wonder of flamingo flight, your best bet is to find them in the wild.

So, Flamingos Never Escape Zoos?

Zoos wish this were the case.

Clipped wings greatly reduce the odds that any single flamingo will reach the outside of their confined habitat, but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility entirely. There have been several instances of flamingos finding ways outside of their enclosures.

One of the more well-known of such instances occurred in 2005 when two flamingos left Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, amid the confusion of a nighttime storm. The birds had arrived at the zoo in 2004, but the employees had not yet gotten around to clipping their wings. That was the main aid to the Houdini act.

This is not the only example of such a feat. There are several other stories that finish with the same ending - one or more captive flamingos getting out - though they don’t all have the same reason.

Even when a flamingo has had its flight feathers cropped, they aren’t gone forever. They can sometimes grow back, even to the point where the flamingo can fly again. This has been the cause of other successful escapes.

What Happens When a Flamingo Escapes from a Zoo?

Of course, the zoo staff and other local authorities begin their search for the missing bird or birds, as they would with any animal that gets loose out into human society. This is for the safety of the animals themselves and the people living and commuting in the area - some paths are left uncrossed.

Flamingos are different from other animals that find themselves rid of their zoo enclosures, though. They have a wide range of unique characteristics that not only make them more difficult to catch and return.

Photo by AgamiPhotoAgency/Shutterstock.com

First, there is the purpose for this article: flight. Flamingos with clipped wings can’t fly, at least not very well, but those without clipped flight feathers can still soar. Humans are notoriously rooted to the earth.

Flamingos are also better equipped to handle a wide range of climate conditions than most animals. They certainly have necessities, like available water sources that house the food they need to survive, but they are more adaptable than most.

“While flamingos are thought of as tropical birds, they can tolerate a wider range of temperatures than most people realize, and this could contribute to their success as escapees,” Matthew J. Anderson, an associate professor at St. Joseph’s University with a background in animal psychology, told Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura in 2015.

The “fairly shy birds,” and Anderson put it, have proven their mettle over the years. Though it wasn’t thanks to any zoo escapes, many flamingos took refuge much further north than normal in North America last year. Hurricane Idelia’s powerful winds scattered flamingos all across the United States, stranding them in 11 different states, reaching as far up as Ohio and Pennsylvania. These birds didn’t stay around too for the most part, but that they could arrive in these unknown regions far from their regular locations and still survive is a testament to how hard it is to catch out these suckers when they get loose.

If you still don’t believe me, then consider the flamingos we mentioned earlier that escaped from the Kansas zoo. Seventeen years later, one of those two birds was spotted in Texas, still living, and still doing its flamingo thing. One way or another, No. 492, as the flamingo came to be known, made it work. A non-adaptable species could never.

Another fact in favor of flamingo fugitives is that they aren’t a danger to humans. While something more sinister might find itself on the other side of a rifle to keep it from causing chaos, nobody is whipping out a firearm at a flamingo on-sight.

For all of these reasons, flamingos are more likely to evade capture and make a life for themselves anywhere in a thousand-or-so-mile radius compared to most zoo animals.

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