It ain't the temperate beaches of Florida, but a pink flamingo that escaped from Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City last year has found a winter home on the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake and is doing very well, thank you.
The flamingo - actually a Chilean flamingo, although still pink - flew the coop sometime last September before staff at the Liberty Park aviary could clip its wings, said Mark Stackhouse, aviary education coordinator.Like most birds in captivity, flamingos must have their wings clipped each fall, when the bird finishes growing flight feathers trimmed the previous season but before it recognizes the return of the gift of flight.
"This one apparently figured out he could fly before we got his wings clipped," Stackhouse said.
The flamingo, officially unnamed but dubbed "Floyd" by a local TV station, simply spread its 5-foot wings and lifted its 15-pound frame out of the fenced-in aviary where another 870 birds are held, Stackhouse said.
"When he got above the tree line, I'm sure he could see the Great Salt Lake and, to a flamingo, that's the most attractive thing around," he said.
Aviary officials didn't know for several days that one of their nine flamingos had taken flight until an out-of-breath bird watcher phoned to say he'd just made a historic flamingo sighting on the Great Salt Lake.
"We'd better count our flamingos," Stackhouse said at the time.
Now, the flamingo can be reliably sighted about a half-mile west of the Great Salt Lake State Park, 10 miles west of the city, on a sand spit created by the confluence of a canal with the lake, Stackhouse said.
The fresh water from the canal has created an environment where the lake's ubiquitous brine shrimp thrive, making a winter sanctuary for the flamingo and thousands of other waterfowl.
"As long as the water doesn't freeze, which on the Great Salt Lake it's not likely to do, he'll do just fine," Stackhouse said, adding the Chilean flamingos are found in high-altitude lakes in inclement regions of South America.
But the bird's success in adapting himself to the shores of the Great Salt Lake doesn't mean aviary officials aren't laying plans to bring the flamingo back behind bars. The question, however, is how.
"That's the $64,000 question at the aviary this winter. And it's really not a trivial question," he said. "He's so strong, you can't even get close to him before he flies away."
Stackhouse and his colleagues have considered several plans, such as using a marksman to "wing" the bird, so to speak, rendering it unable to fly. That plan, however, was deemed too risky.
Officials also pondered trapping the bird but realized they had no suitable bait because the flamingo is content to eat the brine shrimp it can find so easily.
The final option is to approach the bird at night, using an airboat and a handful of volunteers and aviary staff, and attempt to blind the flamingo with spotlights and net him.
"But our biggest concern now is the lake's so cold . . . that it's hazardous for people," Stackhouse said. So any rescue attempts could likely be postponed until spring.
Meanwhile, the fugitive flamingo will probably remain where he is. Despite Wednesday's storm front that blew snow and heavy waves across the lake, the bird remains content, Stackhouse said.
By floating nearly submerged in the water and tucking his head under a wing, the flamingo stays comfortable and remains as healthy as his brothers and sisters in captivity.
"The habitat out here is marvelous," Stackhouse said. "Except for the lack of company, he's living the life of Riley."