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Mysterious flamingo hanging out at San Diego beach generates attention and questions

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No one has claimed a flamingo that turned in the South Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Imperial Beach.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

The mysterious flamingo that flew into Imperial Beach last week is here to stay. At least for now.

Nobody has claimed ownership of the bird that appeared in the South Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Park Ranger Brian Collins hopes it stays that way.

“The pink flamingo is just a special visitor,” he said. “I’d prefer not to find out where it came from because we aren’t going to chase it down and capture it. It’s perfectly healthy as far as we can tell.”

On Wednesday, Collins led a group of about 20 people visiting San Diego on a tour of the refuge. The flamingo was the main attraction.

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It took him just a couple of minutes to spot the bird in “Pond 10A,” a salt marsh next to Silver Strand Boulevard. When he did, he quickly turned to the group and gave them a thumbs-up.

The group, armed with binoculars and bird guides, flocked to the edge of the marsh to catch a glimpse of the rare sight as the bird ate lunch — most likely plankton or small crustaceans, according to rangers.

People have been visiting Imperial Beach to look at the flamingo all week, said Mayor Serge Dedina.

“I walked out what I call the Flamingo Trail, and there were a lot of people there,” he said. “People come specifically to see the flamingo and I am really proud that IB is home to it.”

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Zoos and hotels that keep flamingos usually clip their wings so they don’t fly away, according to park rangers. Because the Imperial Beach flamingo has been seen flying from one pond to another, rangers don’t believe it came from a zoo, Collins said.

The bird has a tag, which could’ve been given to it by a biologist researching wild birds. The search took an international turn this week when Collins reached out to a colleague in La Paz, Mexico, to ask if it belongs to anyone in Baja California.

Flamingos spotted in the wild are considered to be possible escapees from aviaries or zoos, according to the Audubon Society. However, some flamingos from the Caribbean or Mexico have been known to winter in Florida and Texas.

Flamingos spotted in San Diego are usually in Escondido’s San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo or hotels such as the Marriott in Coronado.

Capturing the Imperial Beach flamingo could cause undo harm or stress, Collins said. Given the fact that it seems healthy and active, he said, rangers don’t plan to get near the flamingo.

Therefore, it will be staying in the marshes until it decides to fly away or its owner comes forward.

“We hope everyone gets to enjoy a glimpse of the beautiful bird while it’s still here,” said Ranger Lisa Cox. “After all, this national wildlife refuge was established to provide habitat for migratory birds, so it seems to be serving the flamingo well.”

Solis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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