Florida’s Flamingos Were Hiding in Plain Sight

ENVIRONMENT

It turns out that Florida’s prettiest pinkos are natives of the Sunshine State after all. (National Geographic)

Learn more about American flamingos with the Photo Ark!

This flock of American flamingos is sunning itself on the Río Lagartos in northern Yucatán, Mexico.
Photograph by Adam Baker, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

Discussion Ideas

We’re going to have to update our map!
Map by National Geographic Maps

  • What is the species range of the American flamingo?
    • Until recently, the species range of the American flamingo was thought to be mostly in the countries of the Caribbean—hence the bird’s other name, the Caribbean flamingo. Healthy populations can be found along the coastlines of Cuba, Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, the Yucatan Peninsula, and the northern shores of South America. We now know populations of flamingos are probably native to southern Florida as well!

 

 

  • Native or transient, why did flamingo populations plummet in the late 19th century?

 

  • Why were flamingos hunted?
    • feathers. That gorgeous pink plumage was used in hats and fans throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries.
    • food. Flamingos meat used to be available at specialty markets in the U.S.
      • This isn’t new: The ancient Romans served flamingo as a delicacy.
      • Flamingo meat is still available (if not popular) places such as Iraq and India, and the birds have been hunted as an emergency food source in Venezuela.
      • How does it taste? “As a rule, all fish-eating or carnivore birds, the flesh of these birds is stinky. It never tastes good.

 

 

 

  • How did scientists determine that Florida’s flamingos are native species after all?
    • history.The research team started its search for flamingos by looking for evidence of flamingos in Florida before the plume hunting trade took off in the late 19th century.” This evidence included:
      • field notes from ornithologists and hunters (including John James Audubon, who was both). These notes included dates, sizes of the flocks encountered, the presence of juveniles, and notes about the birds from the local population.
      • museum specimens, including mounted flamingos and flamingo eggs
    • GPS. Meet Conchy, the first and (so far) only flamingo ever tagged in the U.S. After showing up at the Key West Naval Air Station in 2015, Conchy was taken to Zoo Miami and later released. His tracking device revealed Conchy stayed in Florida Bay for two years, showing the region can support a flamingo population.

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Surprising Origin of American Flamingos Discovered

NPR: Florida’s Long-Lost Wild Flamingos Were Hiding In Plain Sight

Nat Geo: Photo Ark: American Flamingo

(extra credit!) The Condor: Ornithological Applications: Status and trends of American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in Florida, USA

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