Flamingo spotted in Texas after fleeing a zoo in Kansas in 2005

On a windy day in Wichita, Kan. in 2005, the #492 made the escape.

Workers at the Sedgwick County Zoo had forgotten to clip the African flamingo’s wings, a painless maintenance routine that keeps the beloved birds from flying into the dangerous world outside.

The zoo was unable to retrieve the bird before it flew away from Kansas because it faced long odds of survival in a region of the country that has no other flamingos and few environments suitable for its needs.

David Foreman, a machinist and fishing guide in Edna, Texas, was unaware when he and a friend boarded a boat in Port Lavaca on March 10 of this year.

His clients often claim to see flamingos, confusing them with the smaller but also pink roseate spoonbills that are common on the Gulf Coast. He patiently explains to them, no, there are no flamingos in Texas. He said that to hundreds of people.

But that day he couldn’t believe his eyes. There he was, a tall, graceful bird, standing on one leg, as flamingos often do. He zoomed in as far as he could with his phone’s camera, looking for evidence of what seemed incredible.

“My brain was telling me, ‘No way are you looking at a flamingo,’ but my eyes were telling me, ‘That’s it, there’s no doubt about it,'” said Mr. Foreman, who grew up in a bird sanctuary.

He would have to update his game, he thought.

“It’s almost as if nature put me in my place,” said Mr. Foreman. “Mr. Knows-Everything thinks there are no flamingos in Texas? Check this out.”

Wildlife officials in Texas said it was certainly #492. It was so named because one of its legs had had a tag with that number on it since it arrived at the zoo from Tanzania in 2003. (Officials in Texas have since dubbed it Pink Floyd.)

The boaters were too far away to see the mark. But Julie Hagen, a social media specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said No. 492 was sighted in the same area and time of year as in previous years.

“We have no reason to believe it’s another flamingo,” she said.

It served as confirmation that number 492, estimated to be around 20 years old, is still holding out despite its independence.

His journey would fit right into a script for a Pixar film.

#492 was one of 40 flamingos that arrived at the Kansas Zoo in 2003. Most of the birds were probably around 3 years old, said Scott Newland, the curator of birds at the zoo, in a 2018 interview.

He described the feather trimming, the maintenance that keeps the birds grounded, as painless, “not unlike you or I getting a haircut.” It has to be repeated every year as birds shed their feathers and grow new ones.

But in June 2005, staff missed signs that No. 492’s wings needed to be clipped, and the bird flew off to a drainage canal in Wichita along with another flamingo, No. 347.

On July 4th — seriously, Independence Day — the birds finally flew away from Wichita, #492 southbound and #347 northbound.

No. 347 was never seen again and probably did not survive the winter. However, No. 492 found a suitable environment in Texas, with its flat, salty wetlands, year-round high temperatures, and plentiful food sources.

It even hit a longtime companion: A Caribbean flamingo, which may have blown north into the Gulf during a tropical storm, was spotted with No. 492 back in 2006, but they haven’t been spotted together since 2013.

“Although they are two different species, they are so alike that they would have been more than happy to see each other,” Mr Newland said in 2018. “They are two lonely birds in some kind of alien habitat. They weren’t supposed to be there, so they stayed together because there is a bond.”

Flamingos in the wild can live into their 40s. Predators include foxes and bobcats, but since flamingos pose little threat to humans and aren’t considered wild birds, No. 492 probably doesn’t need to worry about hunters.

Ms. Hagen said No. 492 has been sighted almost every year, usually in the spring, since it made its way to Texas. It’s unclear if the flamingo has made Texas its permanent home, or if the state is part of a migration pattern that has yet to be discovered.

Mr. Foreman first posted his video on his own Facebook and Instagram pages, and his friends drew his attention to No. 492’s backstory and how rare the sighting was. It was “definitely a memorable moment,” he said.

“A flamingo in south Texas,” he said. “Impressive. Who would have thought.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.