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Miami Proud: Zoo Miami Leads Effort To Bring Wild Flamingo Populations Back To Florida

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Palm trees, beaches, and flamingos; these are images that instantly come to mind when you think "Florida."

Flamingos are so pretty and so unique, but have you ever seen one of them in the wild?

The conservation team at Zoo Miami is hoping one day, we all can.

A team of experts is hopeful that a recovery of the population is possible for the Sunshine State.

"There used to be large flocks of flamingos throughout the state of Florida. Through the 1800s biologists describe large flocks of flamingos," said Steven Whitfield, a conservation biologist at Zoo Miami.

They lived in Florida Bay and the Keys and were hunted for food, and their coveted feathers, along with other bird species.

The flamingos were nearly wiped out.

Flamingo Flock
(Photo credit: Zoo Miami)

The flock at Zoo Miami is the American Flamingo, descendants of the Hialeah Park birds, and one of six species of the flamingo.

"There are populations in the Caribbean, in Cuba, The Bahamas; as well as in Mexico and Venezuela," Whitfield added.

Whitfield and the Florida Flamingos Working Group are currently studying where the birds could thrive again. Studying where they are now is tricky.

Wild Flamingos-3
(Source: Judd Patterson/National Park Service)

"Every once in a while, a flamingo shows up in Florida Bay in the Everglades and bird watchers go nuts. No one knows where these birds are coming from. Are they the last flamingos still surviving after hunting? Are they flying in from populations around the Caribbean?"

In 2015, the team got a lucky break.

"One of these birds appear here at the Naval Air Station in Key West and we went to captured him."

They named him 'Conchy' for the Conch Republic, tagged, released, and tracked him for two years before he went off the grid.

"Conchy was only spotted by bird watchers a few times," Whitfield said, adding that this bolstered their mission as it tells them flamingos could be hiding in plain sight.

What is next is determining a healthy location, with mudflats and space for nests and foraging.

The FFWG is working to identify healthy habitats for flamingos in Florida and abroad, to focus and coordinate research and management needs to ensure recovery and healthy habitats and to raise awareness of flamingos in Florida and beyond.

The birds are not on the list of endangered species but are native species so they can be released into the wild.

They added that flamingo conservation is a multinational and transboundary conservation issue and requires active engagement with international partners.

Whitfield said if you do happen to spot a flamingo it's crucial to report it, and yes, there is an app for that called E-bird.

For more information, click here.

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