October 2018 Bird of the Month

Flamingoes in Florida ©  Collin Ross
American Flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber

Flamingos in Florida!

A recent scientific paper concluded that Flamingos have an ancient history in Florida and consistently inhabit Florida Bay, helping settle the question of whether they are native to Florida.  John J. Audubon never shot a Flamingo when he came to Florida in 1838, but he reported seeing many along Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Keys and Gulf Coast to Pensacola, even north to Charleston. For most of his paintings, he shot, measured, and made detailed observations about a bird’s anatomy, behavior, and his experiences. When he saw a flock feeding on the Keys mudflats, he crept in that direction. They started flying towards him, and just before reaching land, they veered straight up into the air (as was their custom), thus his shot missed. When they heard the shot, they veered even higher, out of reach.  

Thus, he had skins sent from Cuba to study, discovering they are the longest legged, longest necked bird in the world. Because all his paintings are life-sized, to fit the paper, he could not paint the Flamingo standing straight, but had to drape its neck to its feet. He described their unique beak bent in the middle. On the mud flats, the Flamingo, with front half of its bill parallel with the water, swings its beak extended from its long neck back and forth like a vacuum, sucking up mud, algae and small crustaceans. It uses its large tongue to squeeze water from these food contents. Audubon saw many flocks of Flamingos and heard stories of how they built mounds on which to lay one or two eggs. Why on mounds? An evolutionary adaption to more easily sit on this nest with its long legs? Or, to prevent high tide from washing away the eggs?

On July 1, 2015, Collin Ross discovered a flock of Flamingos he thinks likely had just arrived from the 50-100 mile flight from the Bahamas or Cuba. The birds landed on the shallows of Biscayne Bay to rest.  They preened, as in the photo, raised feathers in display, showing arousal, and making themselves beautiful, looking to attract a partner. Ross said a few initiated their dance, but the whole group did not respond.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

Reference:

1Status and trends of American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in Florida, USA

Author(s): Steven M. Whitfield, Peter Frezza, Frank N. Ridgley, Anne Mauro, Judd M. Patterson,

Antonio Pernas, and Jerome J. Lorenz

Source: The Condor, 120(2):291-304.

Published By: American Ornithological Society

https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-17-187.1

URL: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1650/CONDOR-17-187.1