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September 25, 2023

Flamingo, displaced by Hurricane Idalia and injured by a snapping turtle, dies on way to Philadelphia Zoo

The shorebird had resumed walking after suffering leg injuries in the attack. It was coming to Philly to being evaluated for a potential release in the wild

Wildlife Birds
Flamingos Pennsylvania Idalia Provided Image/Scott Lewis

One of the two flamingos that came to Pennsylvania after Hurricane Idalia hit Florida has died after being attacked by a snapping turtle. The other has fled the area.

One of the two flamingos that took refuge at a pond in Pennsylvania after being displaced by Hurricane Idalia died Saturday from the leg injuries it sustained during a snapping turtle attack, according to the wildlife center that had been caring for it.

The flamingo died while being transported to the Philadelphia Zoo, the zoo confirmed. The shorebird was to continue its rehabilitation there while caretakers determined whether it could be released back into the wild. The other flamingo, which had been left at the pond in Franklin County, flew elsewhere sometime Friday, PennLive reported.

The injured bird had been recovering at Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Lancaster County after being treated by veterinarians at Companion Animal Hospital for tissue, muscle and tendon damage. By Sept. 18 – one week after the attack – the flamingo was walking on its own, preening and eating calmly. Exactly what led to its death during transit has not been determined, the wildlife center said.

The wildlife center shared the news of the bird's death in a Facebook post Saturday night. It was being transported to the zoo so that it could be placed with other flamingos and sufficiently evaluated for a potential release. 

"There was never any plan to 'dump' the flamingo at the zoo," the post said. "The plan was to continue work with the zoo whose team deals with flamingos on a daily basis which would be in the best interest of this bird, getting with other flamingos and making it possible to assess (its) actions, the ability to be with others, monitor feedings, socialization, physical capabilities and potential issues that needed to be addressed." 

If the bird could not have been safely returned to the wild, it would have been placed in a licensed facility or euthanized, as required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the wildlife center said. 

The flamingo and its companion arrived in St. Thomas Township, about 170 miles west of Philadelphia, at the beginning of September. They were believed to have been blown off course after Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida in late August. 

The snapping turtle attack occurred Sept. 11. Vets cleaned and sutured the injured bird's leg, which was not fractured. The wildlife center then began monitoring the bird, providing medications and wound treatments. During that time, the wildlife center arranged for the flamingo to continue receiving care at the Philadelphia Zoo, sending daily photos and weight-checks to the zoo and veterinarians.   

"Our entire team, as with any of our patients, went above and beyond to ensure a healthy rehabilitation," the wildlife center said in its Facebook post. "We had reached a point where the bird was able to stand, walk and eat on its own, and now was the time to transport the flamingo to the next stages of rehabilitation, and to be with other flamingos. There is a lot of pain and tears shed, and we are all heartbroken." 

The Pennsylvania Game Commission had hoped the flamingo could be rehabilitated quickly and returned to its companion so the birds could fly back to Florida together. But putting the injured flamingo back in the pond before it had healed may have caused an infection. 

Flamingos are known to form lifelong partnerships. The wildlife center determined the birds were not mates, but an adult and child. It was not sure if the adult was the child's parent.

American Flamingos, also called Caribbean Flamingos, can be found in Florida and various Caribbean countries, including Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas. Following Hurricane Idalia, flamingos also were spotted in Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia and Ohio.