Caught Up in Hurricane Idalia’s Florida Flamingo Frenzy

One of four flamingos I saw at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla, Sept. 3, 2023.

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Well, look what Hurricane Idalia blew in. Flamingos! If there’s a silver lining, or pink feathery fringe, to a storm, it’s the presence of wild flamingos in the Sunshine State. These flamboyances have caused quite the frenzy in Florida, and I set out to find some.

A kayaker paddles behind a pair of flamingos at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sept. 2, 2023.
A kayaker paddles behind a pair of flamingos at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sept. 2, 2023.

I Lived in Flamingo and Never Saw the Pink Leggy Bird

Combined, I spent about five years living and working in the small community of Flamingo in Everglades National Park during the 1990s. It’s the very southern point of the continental U.S. and during my time there, it boasted a year-round population of about 35 people. I learned two stories on how the area was named and maybe one is true!

Founded in the late 1800s, the settlers needed to establish a post office, so the area needed a name. Often referred as the End of the World, because back then, I’m sure it did seem like it was the end of the world, the settlers decided on a prettier name. Flamingo.

The first story is it was named after the gorgeous pink bird that frequented the area. The second story is the area was dotted with homes and buildings on stilts which reminded the founders of the leggy bird. No matter the reason, it’s a place I once called home and although I often saw the gorgeous pink roseate spoonbills, and once saw a bright pink ibis following a hurricane, I never saw a flamingo.

Posting with artist Leoma Lovegrove's "Running with the Flamingos" work at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda, Fla., April 2023.
Posting with artist Leoma Lovegrove’s “Running with the Flamingos” work at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda, Fla., April 2023.

I’ve Seen Flamingos in Captivity

Sure, over the years I’ve had my interactions with flamingos. Relatively recently, I saw them at Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, Fla.

On the creative side, I ran with artist Leoma Lovegrove’s flamingos at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda, Fla., this past April and posed for a selfie with Phoebe, the Tampa International Airport larger-than-life flamingo last summer.

But I’ve never had the privilege of seeing flamingos in the wild. Until earlier in the month.

On a Flamingo Quest: Social Media Led the Way

News reports of flamingo sightings started trickling in after Hurricane Idalia blew through. Not only were flamingos seen in Florida but also North and South Carolina, Ohio and Texas. When I saw they were spotted in Sanibel Island and the St. Petersburg area, I wanted to see them.

Some scientists believe the flamingos are from the Caribbean/Cuba and were blown off course.

But how long would they be in Sanibel and St. Petersburg? I kept an eye on social media, specifically Facebook and X (formerly Twitter), entering search terms like “flamingos st petersburg,” “flamingo florida,” and “flamingos sanibel.” On Sunday, Sept. 3, I selected between heading south to Sanibel and north to St. Petersburg. There were more sightings to the north, at least on social media, so I rolled the dice and headed north.

My first (and only) destination was North Beach at Fort De Soto Park, a county park in Pinnellas County. I’ve never been and decided if I didn’t see flamingos, at least I would have visited a new destination. If I didn’t see flamingos, Treasure Island was my next destination.

One of many flamingos that appeared in Florida following August's Hurricane Idalia. Seen at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sept. 3, 2023.
One of many flamingos that appeared in Florida following August’s Hurricane Idalia. Seen at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sept. 3, 2023.

Is Four a Flamboyance?

Since these flamingos are wild birds, I wasn’t sure how long they’d stay in the area, so I didn’t have high expectations. The great thing about low expectations is when something does come through, the reward exceeds my imagination and is more meaningful.

So, when I began walking onto the beach, I wasn’t sure where to go. I looked off to my right and saw a group of people and a pale blob of pink.

Was it a flamingo???

As I walked closer, what I thought was maybe a roseate spoonbill, turned out to be a flamingo! And not one flamingo, but FOUR freakin’ flamingos! Wild flamingos in Florida! One was bright pink, another was a pale pink, and two were more grayish than pink.

Now, I know a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance but does a group of four count as a flamboyance? Bing’s AI chat said yes!

Mesmerized by Flamingos

I sat on the sand near a group of photographers, whipped out my big camera and lens, and sat for over an hour on the wet sand watching and observing flamingos do what flamingos do.

While wading in the water with their heads beneath the surface, these beautiful birds shimmied their legs back and forth. I imagine they were stirring up food from the bottom. They strutted through the water, occasionally interacted with each other and every so often, preened their feathers.

Mission Accomplished

There wasn’t a need to head to Treasure Island or elsewhere, Fort De Soto Park gave me my flamingo fix.

I drove about 90 minutes to see these fabulous birds, knowing they may not be there. And yes, that seems a bit silly, but I chose correctly, and this was absolutely worth the trip. I don’t know if and when I’ll have a chance to see wild flamingos again.

Life is too short so always say “yes” to adventure!

Video: My Trek to See Flamingos in Florida

View my video of searching for flamingos on YouTube.

Solo Travel Girl

Jennifer A. Huber is the voice behind Solo Travel Girl. She's an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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