Wild flamingos sighted on Space Coast for the first time in decades: 'Surreal'

A rare bird is now calling the Space Coast home. 

American flamingos were pushed off the path during last season’s hurricanes. Months later, the flamingos haven’t left, and visitors flock to see them.

Local wildlife photographer Erin Rotne is always looking for new wildlife and new experiences at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which she’s visited for years. She had never seen a flamingo in the wild until now. 

"To see a totally new species that I’ve never had in front of a lens before was awesome," said Rotne. 

She shared images of the wild flamingos with FOX 35 from a recent boating trip at the wildlife refuge.  

"To actually see them in the wild, not a care in the world, doing their thing, it was surreal," the photographer added. 

Without the right gear, you can’t see the flamingos on land, but with a good eye and a high-powered lens, people are catching a glimpse. 

"Yep, they’re there," said Wayne Chen, a NASA scientist in town from Maryland for a rocket launch. 

Chen made a memorable trip to try and see the flamingos. On Wednesday, on a far-off island near the Haulover Canal, he could see the flock. Chen says he "thought I was going to cry when I saw it." Even in less-than-ideal weather conditions, several people like Chen were venturing to the refuge, trying to see the pops of pink. 

"People are coming from far and wide," said Rotne, who’s always noticing new social media posts about flamingo sightings. 


Social media has been buzzing about the birds for months. NASA says the wildlife refuge hasn’t had documented flamingo sightings since 1992.

"These birds are part of the Hurricane Idalia vortex," said Jim Eager, who’s a professional birding guide who offers tours to see birds on the Space Coast. 

Eager says the flamingos are originally from the Yucatan Peninsula, but they could survive long-term on the Space Coast.

"This is the Indian River Lagoon. It’s brackish which is part fresh, part salt and if they find enough quality of food, yes they can stay here," he added. 

No one really knows how long they'll stick around, so long-time locals and new visitors are making sure to see the birds before they fly somewhere else or another storm blows them away.

"You don’t see a flamingo every day," Rotne concluded.

Since the birds are difficult to spot on land, and you need special equipment, you can book a birding tour with Eager to try and spot the flamingos and other birds in Brevard County. You can find out more about his services by clicking this website.