Flamingos, with their distinct pink plumage and long legs, are certainly beautiful, striking birds, but most Americans don’t usually see them in the wild.
But locals in Texas were recently surprised when a flamingo was spotted in the wild — and it turned out to be a famous runaway, who has been “on the lam” and surprising everyone for 17 years.
According to the New York Times, the African flamingo was spotted on March 10 near Port Lavaca, Texas by a machinist and fishing guide named David Foreman.
It came as a shock to Foreman, who is an expert on local wildlife and had never seen a flamingo in the area before.
“My brain was telling me, ‘No way you’re looking at a flamingo,’ but my eyes were telling me, ‘That’s what it is, there’s no mistaking it,’” he told the Times. “It’s almost like nature’s way of putting me in my place. Mr. Knows-Everything thinks there’s no flamingos in Texas? Have a look at this.”
Not only was it a flamingo, but it turned out to be quite a celebrity.
According to Associated Press, officials reviewed Foreman’s footage noticed the bird’s leg band, and realized this was no ordinary flamingo — it was “No. 492,” a flamingo that escaped a Kansas zoo 17 years ago and has been defying the odds ever since.
No. 492 (that’s the official identification on his band. The public has nicknamed it “Pink Floyd,” though its sex has never been identified) — was one of two birds that escaped from the Sedgwick County Zoo in 2005.
According to the Times, No. 492 was one of 40 flamingos brought to the zoo for their newly-opened flamingo exhibit. But in June 2005, the zoo discovered that No. 492 and an accomplice known as No. 347 had flown out of the enclosure.
The zoo normally clips the flamingos’ feathers to prevent them from flying off, but had not clipped these two birds by mistake, allowing them to fly off. On July 4, fittingly Independence Day, they were gone for good.
While freedom sounds nice, the flamingos were given slim odds of survival in the wild. No. 347 has never been seen again, and it’s assumed it didn’t survive the winter.
However, No. 492 has done quite well, and is still out in the wild. There have been a few sightings over the years: it was last spotted in 2018 in Texas, and while in the past he’s been spotted in states like Wisconsin and Louisiana, it seems it has settled in in the Lone Star State.
According to the Times, Texas has shallow, salty wetlands and year-round hot temperatures that make it a suitable environment for an African flamingo.
This self-sufficient flamingo has been surviving on its own for 17 years, and if all continues to go well it has quite a life ahead: African flamingos can live into their 40s in the wild.
And don’t worry — while No. 492 has been spotted, the Sedgwick County Zoo has no interest in recapturing their famous runaway. According to AP, they couldn’t do so without disturbing other wildlife.
Scott Newland, the zoo’s curator of birds, told the Wichita Eagle that the bird’s escape was a “black eye” and an “error” for the zoo, but he seems okay with the escapee achieving legendary status.
“I can see where if you were an avid birdwatcher and lister, this would be something to go out and see,” Newland said. “Every two or three years, another sighting of him pops up. The good thing is that if this is what gets people out watching wildlife, there is no harm in that.”
What a story! We hope this beautiful flamingo continues to thrive in the wild for many years to come.
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