The renegade flamingo flew the coop on the 4th of July in 2005, and has since found a friend, a Caribbean flamingo blown in by a tropical storm
Flamingo #492 has lived quite an adventuresome life. After being captured in Africa with 40 other flamingos in 2003, it was held captive for two years in a Kansas zoo, before it and one other brave bird decided to fly to coop in 2005.
By 2006, the flamingo found a suitable climate in Texas, on an island between Houston and Corpus Christi, where it was just spotted again last month, the New York Times reports.
492’s accomplice, #397 wasn’t so lucky. It ended up in Michigan, where zookeepers suspect it didn’t survive the first winter.
One thing that has likely contributed to #492’s long life is an unlikely friend it found in Texas. If it wasn’t strange enough for one flamingo to be in Texas, the bird was spotted with a Caribbean flamingo on the island as early as 2006 and as late as 2013.
The Caribbean flamingo was likely blown in by a tropical storm, and because flamingos are extremely social creatures, the two latched onto each other and stayed friends for at least 7 years.
Flamingos generally can’t be found in the United States, except for a few sightings in South Florida.
The great escape
Flamingos #492 and 397 were lucky not to have their wings clipped when they arrived at the Kansas zoo, because they were already adults. All the babies in their flock had them amputated before the bones were fully formed.
They were supposed to have their feathers trimmed regularly, however, to keep them from flying. Luckily the zookeepers neglected to notice their feathers were getting a little long shortly before the 4th of July, allowing them to escape to a drainage canal on the western side of Wichita.
After about a week of observation by park officials, who could not figure out how to capture them there, there was a terrible thunderstorm July 3, and by July 4, the birds were gone.
For unknown reasons, the flamingos went their separate ways. 347 was spotted at AuTrain Lake in Michigan in August 2005, and then was never seen again.
But #492 flew south, where it found an environment similar to its homeland in Tanzania.
“As long as they have these shallow, salty types of wetlands they can be pretty resilient,” Felicity Arengo, a flamingo expert at the American Museum of Natural History, told the Times.
Flamingos can live into their 40s in the wild, but are highly social creatures and unlikely to thrive without other flamingos.
Luckily 492 found a new friend. 492 and the Caribbean flamingo have often been referred to as “mates,” although no one knows the sex of either bird.
“Even though they’re two different species, they are enough alike that they would have been more than happy to see each other,” said Scott Newland, the curator of birds at the zoo.
“They’re two lonely birds in kind of a foreign habitat. They’re not supposed to be there, so they have stayed together because there’s a bond.”
It’s unclear whether the Caribbean flamingo has died, parted ways with 492 or was just out of sight at 492’s last sighting. Either way, we hope 492 continues to fly free this Independence Day!