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September 07, 2023

Flamingos spotted in Pennsylvania for first time after being swept from Florida by Hurricane Idalia

The tropical shorebirds likely were blown off course by strong winds from the storm, experts say. They've been spotted in 10 states outside Florida in recent days

Wildlife Birds
Flamingo Pennsylvania Becka H/

The stock photo above shows an American flamingo, a species that's native to Florida and the Caribbean. Flamingos were spotted for the first time in Pennsylvania this week and have shown up in other states north of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.

Bird watchers reported Pennsylvania's first documented sighting of American flamingos this in Franklin County. The state is now one of several that have become temporary refuges to the tropical birds, which likely were blown off course by Hurricane Idalia at the end of August. 

Photographer and bird watcher John Carter shared a photo on Facebook showing a pair of flamingos at Long Lane Pond in St. Thomas Township, about 170 miles west of Philadelphia.

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"I am beyond words right now, on my lunch break I decided to check some local ponds for shorebirds, and wouldn't you know I would find the first reported American Flamingos in the state of Pennsylvania," Carter wrote.

I am beyond words right now, on my lunch break I decided to check some local ponds for shorebirds, and wouldn't you know...

Posted by John Carter on Thursday, September 7, 2023

Another birder, Scott Lewis, shared several photos of the flamingos on Facebook, saying he had driven two hours to St. Thomas after hearing about Carter's sighting. And another man had posted a photo and video on Wednesday, tagging the Pennsylvania Game Commission about flamingos he observed in a body of water, which he said was in an area "not very far from Greencastle," which is within 15 miles of Long Lane Pond. 

Flamingos also have been seen in recent days in Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Virginia and Ohio — all states where they are not normally found.

Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida on Aug. 30. The Category 3 storm packed winds topping 125 mph and caused significant flooding, power loss and property damage before weakening to a tropical storm as it pushed north through Georgia and South Carolina.

"We're seeing flamingos all over the place. We're seeing them in places that we didn't expect them," Nate Swick, digital communications manager for the American Birding Association, told NPR.

An ABA Facebook page that issues rare bird alerts posted that the sighting in Pennsylvania is pending review, but that it will represent a first once confirmed. The organization advised people traveling to see the flamingos to be respectful of the birds, property owners and other people at the pond.

"Lots of people are coming to see these birds, no need to encroach or trespass on private property," the ABA post said.

By the ABA's count, flamingos have now been spotted in 10 states since the hurricane swept through Florida. Pennsylvania is the northernmost among them.

"These birds are most likely just blown off course, while they were traveling maybe from the Yucatan to Cuba or the Bahamas," Hannah McDougall, director of communications for Miami's Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, told News Nation.

McDougall said it's possible some of the flamingos will remain in the areas where they landed, but most likely they will return to their natural habitats.

In 2019, after Florida was hit by Hurricane Barry, flamingos were spotted in Tennessee and Missouri. Swick told NPR they remained there "for a little while" and then started making their way back to Florida. Swick expects the birds that scattered north after Hurricane Idalia likely will make their way to coastal areas when they are ready to return home.

American Flamingos, also called Caribbean Flamingos, can be found in various Caribbean countries, including Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas. The species also lives in Florida, where about 95% of flamingo sightings occur in the Everglades, the Florida Keys and Biscayne Bay, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

American flamingos are not migratory birds, but they are considered strong fliers that can travel considerable distances in search of food. They measure up to 5 feet tall and weigh about 4-8 pounds. Their pink color comes from pigments in the invertebrates, like shrimp, that make up most of their diet. 

American flamingos were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century and now make up less than 1% of the global population of flamingo species.

The flamingo sighting in Pennsylvania marks the second time this summer that a tropical bird from Florida made its first recorded appearance in the state. 

In July, a limpkin, a species of wading bird, was seen in Lancaster County's Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and drew hundreds of birders to the area. The expanded territory of the limpkin is thought to be connected to the spread of invasive snails that are a staple of their diet.