They may be an unofficial Florida mascot, but wild-born flamingos have all but disappeared from the Sunshine State. Spotting one in these parts is "rarer than rare" says naturalist Vince McGrath, which is why area birders are abuzz about several recent sightings of the graceful creatures in Lee County.
A group of Alva Elementary School fourth-graders on a field trip to Bunche Beach near the Sanibel Causeway last week watched a lone flamingo feeding, preening and resting in the shallows before it took flight. The bird's feathers had only traces of the characteristic coral pink, which leads McGrath to believe it's a youngster.
Other birders have seen flamingos elsewhere in the region. Nine flew north past Barefoot Beach near Bonita Springs last week, says Gayle Sheets, who volunteers with Lee County Bird Patrol (birdpatrol.org), a group that monitors birds throughout Lee County.
It's a common misconception flamingos aren't native to Florida. Actually, before much of the state was replumbed and its wetlands drained, they were common here.
"Blame the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers," McGrath laughed.
Occasionally, captive flamingos escape from zoos and tourist attractions, especially after hurricanes. And judging by the behavior of the the young Bunche Beach bird, that may be the case, McGrath says.
"It let people get pretty close," he says, "and it didn't seem too bothered by them."