Wild flamingos spotted in Georgia for the first time on record

American flamingos wade in Myrtle Pond on Little St. Simons Island. The flamingos recently spotted in Georgia are the first on record for the state. (Courtesy of Carol Behnke)

For the first time, wild American flamingos have been seen in a couple locations in Georgia.

The tall pink birds have now been spotted in two places: One bird in Point Wentworth, near Savannah, and four hanging out in a pond on Little St. Simons Island, off the coast of Brunswick.

There’d been reports of wild flamingos in Georgia before, but they’d never been confirmed, so, officially, these are the first.

“I’ve worked on the island for 18 years and we’ve never had anything as charismatic as flamingos. Never had anything people were as excited about,” said Scott Coleman, the ecological manager on Little St. Simons.

It’s a private island, dedicated to conservation. So Coleman’s had his share of cool birds. But the flamingos, he said, feel different. They’re distinctive and basically instantly recognizable even to people who never give birds much thought.

One of the wild flamingos on Little St. Simons. These are likely some of the birds that were blown far off course by Hurricane Idalia last year. (Courtesy of Cody Cox)

Georgia had also, frankly, been behind in flamingo visitations.

Last year, Hurricane Idalia blew American flamingos, which are native to the Caribbean and South America, to all kinds of unusual places; they were showing up as far away as Kansas.

“It was … very annoying that practically every other eastern state had reports last year and we missed them,” Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, wrote in an email.

These birds, Keyes wrote, are likely related to that storm. (And, he noted, not likely an indication of a changing climate since the flamingos were probably blown off course, as opposed to migrating north following temperature or other changes.)

It’s not unusual for hurricanes and other big weather systems to send birds to new places. Rare Georgia visitors like magnificent frigatebirds get birders excited. But the flamingos, with their wide recognition, are something else.

“I love that we finally got our first flamingo both because they are incredibly unique in looks and behavior and feeding structures, but also their broad appeal can attract people to birds and birding,” Keyes wrote. “It is impossible not to root for these birds to survive, thrive and make it home.”

Little St. Simons was running special tours this week for people to get to see the flamingos. Coleman said he’s been happy to see the island play host to the visitors.  

“It’s really rewarding to see a special bird like this, taking up and stopping and feeding for however long they’re here in these landscapes that we’ve worked hard to maintain and conserve,” he said.