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Flamingo spotted in Massachusetts in potentially unprecedented event

Jason Cameron/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Vacationers aren’t the only ones starting to flock to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this time of year.


A flamingo was spotted along the shore of the popular summer destination on Sunday by several beachgoers, who captured the unexpected visitor as the tropical bird waded in the water and stood on a sandbar at Chapin Beach in the town of Dennis.

If verified as a wild — as opposed to an escaped — bird, the sighting would mark the first time a wild flamingo has been seen in Massachusetts, according to Mark Faherty, the science coordinator for Mass Audubon Cape Cod.

“If it’s a wild bird, it’s unprecedented,” Faherty told ABC News.

The previous American flamingo sightings on record in the state — two in the mid-1960s and one in 1985 — involved escaped birds, according to Faherty, who believes this latest sighting to be that of a wild bird that got to Cape Cod on its own.

It’s difficult to prove, though Faherty believes the flamingo is the same one spotted on the east end of Long Island, New York, last week, due to the proximity to Cape Cod and the rarity of the bird in the region.

“That seems to be the most likely explanation,” he said.

It’s a bit of a mystery how the bird ended up outside of its native range, though Faherty has one theory. Last year, flocks of flamingos were blown north into parts of the eastern U.S. by Hurricane Idalia almost immediately after it made landfall near Big Bend, Florida, on Aug. 30 — and spotted in states including Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, where they were once native.

The flamboyance phenomenon is a known occurrence with hurricanes that travel up the Gulf of Mexico, Faherty said.

“We know from one bird tracked back in the early 2000s, that when they get displaced like this, they don’t go back home,” Faherty said. “They tend to turn into permanent hurricane refugees and just sort of wander around wherever they end up.”

Jerry Lorenz, state director of research for Audubon Florida, told ABC News that he strongly suspects the flamingo got blown from the Yucatan region due to Hurricane Idalia.

“I would be willing to bet a great deal of money that that is a bird that came over with Idalia,” he said.

If the Cape Cod flamingo is one of those hurricane-blown birds, Faherty said it is “still pretty astounding” that it would have ended up in Massachusetts.

“Why did it come all this way to come to Cape Cod now, in June?” he said. “It’s a mystery.”

Lorenz said the “extraordinary” sighting could most likely be due to the bird getting confused and flying in the wrong direction.

“Greater flamingos, which is a different species, have been documented to fly 180 degrees the wrong way when they migrate,” he said. “I think that this bird was probably here in Florida and was going, I’m going back to my home in the Yucatan or Cuba or wherever it is and flew in the opposite direction.”

Or, it could be that the bird likes it in the north and is exploring, he said. He also said flamingos are “weird birds” and their behavior can be difficult to explain.

“There are so many possibilities,” he said, noting that the most likely one is that it came over with Hurricane Idalia and is “confused.”

Lorenz noted that by restoring Florida’s wetlands, flamingo sightings in northern states could become more commonplace if the birds establish a local population.

The Massachusetts Avian Records Committee will ultimately examine the evidence and vote on whether the Cape Cod flamingo is wild in order for it to go on the official state list regarding rare birds. The committee, which meets twice a year, is likely to convene in the coming weeks, Faherty, a former member, said.

For now, birders, including Faherty, have gone to the area after the initial sightings to try to catch a glimpse of the flamingo themselves.

Faherty said it hasn’t been seen since Sunday — leaving bird enthusiasts wondering where it will turn up next.

“It could still be hiding in some out-of-the-way place here on the Cape. But it could also be three states away,” Faherty said. “Who knows?”

Lorenz said there’s a chance the Cape Cod bird might stick around the region before heading south when it gets cold.

Faherty said he’ll be keeping an eye out for the bird — the type of rare, unexpected sighting that he said bird watchers live for.

“I just encourage people to … pick up some binoculars, just start looking around,” he said. “You’ll never know what you’re going to find.”

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