How to see flamingos in Florida this spring

American Flamingos take wing at Stormwater Treatment Area 2 in Florida in May 2014. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District
American Flamingos take wing at a Florida wetland in May 2014. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District

In a 2008 article for our magazine, National Park Service naturalist Bob Showler noted that Snake Bight, a 10-square-mile portion of Florida Bay within Everglades National Park, was “the best place in America” to find American Flamingo. He cautioned, however: “You might have to look long and hard before you see one. For despite its trademark flamboyance, it can be one tough bird to find.”

Showler recounted the history of flamingos in the Sunshine State, and he noted more recent sightings in Florida, mostly at locations within the national park.

Yesterday, we learned that for the last nine years, flamingos have been coming to a place that is part of the Everglades ecosystem but is about 90 miles north of Snake Bight. Stormwater Treatment Area 2 (STA 2) is a 9,195-acre constructed wetland located 25 miles west of Boca Raton that is managed by the South Florida Water Management District. It is open to hunters on a few days in fall and winter but is otherwise closed to the public. (Read about the area and find a map here.)

Flamingos typically stop at STA 2 from late March to mid-May. In spring 2014, biologists who were conducting a survey of Black-necked Stilts counted a flock of 147 flamingos, the largest flock tallied in Florida in more than 100 years. Word got out, and several people sneaked into the area to look for the birds.

This year, for the first time, the water management district has teamed up with the Audubon Society of the Everglades to conduct weekend tours of the area to let birders look for the flamingos. A district biologist told the Palm Beach Post, “We are eager to have people who want to be there but under controlled situations.” Visitors to the area on March 7 found eight flamingos, and more than 50 other species. (Here’s their eBird checklist.)

Audubon trips are scheduled for March 22 and 28 and April 4, 12, 18, and 25. The trips will be by carpool with four people per car. Each tour can have a maximum of 40 attendees. Organizers note that there’s no guarantee that flamingos will be seen.

For the best chance to see the pink birds, the trips will start at 2:30 p.m. and will conclude by 6:30 p.m. A minimum donation of $5 is suggested. Demand is high, and the first three trips already have waiting lists. If you want to go, read the trip description and email the organizer as soon as possible.

And finally, a request: If you go and snap a photo of flamingos, please post it in our Rarities Gallery. Good luck! — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor

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