In the wild, wild world of flamingos, one expatriate Kansan – a 2005 escapee from the Sedgwick County Zoo – has now become somewhat of a gadabout.
Last week, Massachusetts birder Neal Hayward spotted the bird – known as No. 492, the number on the bird’s leg band – basking in the ocean spray off the Texas coast with a “friend”: a Yucatan-born Caribbean flamingo with a band reading “HDNT.” He blogged about the two this week.
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“I received word that the famous mismatched flamingo pair had been spotted hanging out in Cox’s Bay, a shallow inlet off Port Lavaca on the Texas Gulf Coast,” Hayward wrote on his blog, “Accidental Big Year 2013.”
HDNT, a smaller and pinker bird, has been seen with No. 492 at various locations. They may be just friends. Or they may be a couple.
And now for the delicate part of the story: No one is sure what gender No. 492 is. The bird wasn’t with the zoo long enough for blood testing to be done, said Scott Newland, the zoo’s curator of birds.
No. 492 began life in Tanzania and spent time in South Africa before being shipped to the United States and the Sedgwick County Zoo in 2004 with 39 other flamingos. The bird is about 18 years old and capable of living 50 years or more in the wild. It is 4 to 5 feet tall with pale pink feathers.
Since leaving the zoo in 2005, No. 492 has been spotted in Wisconsin, Texas and Louisiana.
Newland said he is a bit hesitant talking about No. 492 and how in a very rare moment, the bird escaped from the zoo.
“It is a black eye, to be honest,” he said. “It was basically an error. We are not fond of this story.”
But No. 492 has gained almost legendary status for birders wanting to add another species to their lists.
“I can see where if you were an avid birdwatcher and lister, this would be something to go out and see,” Newland said. “Every two or three years, another sighting of him pops up.
“The good thing is that if this is what gets people out watching wildlife, there is no harm in that.”