More Birds in Odd Places

Utah has one flamingo; did Washington have three?

Soon after we ran an article on Pink Floyd, a pink flamingo far from its usual habitat, we received an interesting letter about another, earlier flamingo sighting. Here are some excerpts:

I know where Floyd the Flamingo may spend his summers: further north in the tall grass of the Salmon Creek flood plain, in the deep valley between Felida and Sara, Wash.

I was eight or nine when I first spotted the birds stalking out of savannah grass as tall as my father. First one, then another, and then another flamingo appeared. I ran up the steep forested hillside, yelling, "Flamingos! There are flamingos in Salmon Creek!"

No one believed me. Some time elapsed before my best friend, Janet, agreed to wait with me as long as it took for the birds to wander out of their grass haven to prove their presence. We waited. And waited.

And then, just as Janet was rising to leave, the miracle occurred. Janet's mouth opened in stunned silence. I'll never forget the awe in her expression when she turned to me. "You were right!"

After that day I felt it necessary to prove that flamingos lived in Salmon Creek to only one other person: my fianc. Being male and a biology major (and did I mention German?), he knew without a doubt that flamingos could not exist in the Pacific Northwest.

We tromped down the steep, mud path on a freezing day in early 1959. It wasn't long before several pink birds casually strolled into view before disappearing again into their wintering place..

When I returned to the area in the mid-1980s, none of my former neighbors remembered seeing flamingos, but a few had heard stories about them.

Catherine MacDonald, Prescott, Ariz.

A reporter investigates further:

What's pink, out of place, and has lots of serious bird watchers scratching their heads? It's Pink Floyd, an escaped Chilean flamingo that's made a home for himself near the Great Salt Lake in Utah for eight years.

"I'm surprised," says Harvard ornithologist Raymond Paynter, "and at the same time not surprised." It's temperate, and there's lots of blue-green algae and shrimp to keep a flamingo's feathers pink. In short, it's very hospitable.

Nor is it strange for a nonnative bird species to fare well in a new environment, given that the climate agrees with the bird, Mr. Paynter says.

Thousands of birds escape from zoos, pet shops, and homes every year. Exotic birds are less likely to survive in the wild. They often can't fly properly because their flight feathers have been clipped. They also may need food that's not available in a foreign environment.

Some nonnative birds do better than others, adds Cornell ornithologist Ron Rohrbaugh. For example, the European starling and the house sparrow have thrived in Eastern North America since their introduction in the early 1900s.

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