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101 Flamingos: New count has scientists optimistic about bird's future in Florida

Flamingos gather in Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Myers in February.
Ding Darling Wildlife Society
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Flamingos gather near a white pelican in Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge near Fort Myers in February.

A flamingo count launched by Audubon Florida in February amid increased sightings of the hot pink bird tallied 101 across the state.

The count was launched to gather evidence in a push to have modern-day flamingos declared native to Florida. State wildlife officials believe the birds historically inhabited and nested in Florida, but recent sightings are likely vagrants from Caribbean flocks. That includes birds blown over by Hurricane Idalia last year.

Scientists, however, believe increased sightings are proof the birds may be reclaiming their native range.

READ MORE: Is it time to make the flamingo Florida's state bird?

“I actually suspect that 100 flamingos is the floor of this new population and there could be more that were not counted during the one-week survey,” Audubon research director Jerry Lorenz said in a statement.

The count was conducted as part of a wider annual count conducted by the Caribbean Flamingo Conservation Group to catalog American flamingos across their range. More than 40 people filed reports.

The largest flock of about 50 was spotted in Florida Bay, with another 18 counted at Pine Island near Sanibel. Fourteen more were spotted north of Cape Canaveral in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Scientists began urging the state to reclassify flamingos after a 2018 study found birds likely lived in Florida but were wiped out by plume traders. In the 1830s, John Audubon even reported seeing a large flock near Indian Key. But between hunting and draining the Everglades the birds mostly disappeared.

With these latest appearances, and work to restore historic Everglades water levels, Audubon Florida said there’s a chance the birds could return full time.

“We are hopeful that protected wetlands and improved water flow will create enough habitat resources for the Hurricane Idalia flamingos to survive and thrive here.” the group said.

Jenny Staletovich is WLRN's Environment Editor. She has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years. Contact Jenny at jstaletovich@wlrnnews.org
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