Environment
6:30 am
Fri June 7, 2013

Hunting The Flamingo Is A Birder's Rite Of Passage In "Garish, Neon" Florida

The flamingo perfectly represents Florida, according to birder Nicholas Lund.
Credit Robert.Claypool / Flickr Creative Commons

The Birdist's Nicholas Lund -- who, in a recent Slate piece, took each and every state to task for its choice of state bird -- stands by his assertion that the flamingo should be Florida's avian ambassador, even if most of the state's denizens will never set eyes on the pink fellows outside of an aviary or souvenir shop. Lund argued in his popular online piece that the American flamingo deserves to hold the honor over Florida's current choice of Northern mockingbird. 

Responding to WLRN's response (Florida's State Bird Shouldn't Be The Mockingbird - Or The Flamingo) to his article, Lund vehemently defends his choice of the flamingo to represent the Sunshine State. 

"This may be a touchy subject for Floridians, but ask people in the 49 other states and they'll say flamingo," Lund says, affectionately alluding to the state as a "garish, neon place."

"They're big and neon and you can airbrush them onto a tank top," Lund says of the ubiquitous (in theory) birds. 

Lund says his suggestion of the flamingo as Florida's representative bird drew more dissent than any other of his other state species "improvements." Many who objected -- including WLRN -- pointed to the scarcity of flamingos in the wild and the slim-to-none chance of spotting one anywhere other than a zoo.

Lund finds such arguments absurd. He doesn't think commonality or a statewide range should be the overriding factors when choosing a state symbol. Point is: he does make a compelling argument for the overused but iconic bird. 

"I don't like the criteria of something being easy to find," Lund says. "Encourage the populace to get out and find them" Lund says of selecting challenging birds like the American flamingo, which can only be found in a few far-flung places in the wild. 

All joking (about Florida's penchant for flash and bright colors) aside, Lund says the state should make every effort to capitalize on its rich native and migratory bird life. A Maine native now living in Washington, D.C. -- where he works in the non-profit environmental sector -- Lund says he has flown to Florida numerous times and "spent significant amounts of money to look for birds."

In his travels, Lund has visited the Keys, Miami, and the Dry Tortugas, among many other locales, seeking out rare birds like the Florida scrub jay, the limpkin and yes -- the elusive flamingo.

"Looking for flamingos in Florida is a birder's rite of passage," Lund says. 

Many birders take to the famed -- or rather, infamous -- Snake Bight Trail in Everglades National Park. The shaded hiking path, which ends on a small bay, is one of the few spots rumored to provide glimpses of wild flamingos. It's littered with "cool birds" as well as swarms of thirsty mosquitos. 

"It's absolute hell," Lund says of the sweaty, itchy ordeal. But it's also one of those things that "every birder has to do."

But celebrating the rarity and uniqueness of the flamingo isn't just for the diehard birder, Lund says. It's something that anyone can appreciate: The fact that Florida has one of the most prolific bird populations in the nation and that there are "a bunch of species you can only see in Florida." Selecting a state bird that reflects this would only serve to highlight one of our strengths: "Excite the state populace about this cool thing you have in your state."

And while Lund concedes that WLRN's selection of the roseate spoonbill is a "cool choice" he says "flamingos are still number one."

Read more by Lund at the birding blog, The Birdist