BY DR. RUSCENA WIEDERHOLT
YOU’VE SEEN THEM EVERYWHERE! ADORNING FLOWER BEDS AND POOLS, GRACING NEON SIGNS AND GLASSES, PEEKING OUT FROM DRESSES AND SHIRTS. THE ICON OF THE TROPICS…
The mere mention of this wading bird conjures up images of white sand beaches and aquablue water. While amingo depictions have neverstrayed far from Florida, the history of the actual,living species is a di erent story. Bright pink, the American amingo rivals only the Roseatespoonbill for its exuberant plumage. More thanjust a ashy cover, their plumage reveals their betacarotene and pigment rich diet of algae, plants,sh, insects, crustaceans and invertebrates.Easy to spot, foolproof to identify, it should beimpossible to lose track of birds like that. So, we’d think.
Swirling among these festive pink feathershas been no small amount of confusion andcontroversy, as amingo sightings have been
recorded in Florida since the 1950s. Of real birds,not the ones oating in your neighbor’s pool. Butfor decades, the enduring question was where did they come from? Were these birds actuallynative to Florida or merely transients fromnearby Caribbean colonies? After all, Americanamingos are found across the Caribbean, to the Yucatan peninsula and northern South America, predominantly in mud ats, inland lakesand lagoons in estuarine or coastal areas. They can disperse long-distances, so perhaps theywere just another visitor come to enjoy Florida’ssunshine and endless beaches. Or maybe theyhadn’t traveled at all.
For a long time, sightings of amingos were dismissed as escapees from captive populations, especially the one in Hialeah. In 1931, JosephWidener, a wealthy Philadelphian art collector,had just purchased the Hialeah racetrack. He imported 20 to 30 amingos from Cuba for the grounds. They promptly ew away the next day.Undaunted, he imported more, and this time theystayed. Charming the public with their good looks,not long after the Florida Derby was renamed the Flamingo Stakes. Winston Churchill is alleged to have painted their portrait while visiting Miami in the 40s. Miami Vice and several movies captured the ock on screen, and the charismatic amingo was cast on the Florida lottery ticket. The ock remains today, and it was long believed that its famous individuals were the source of the mysterious amingo sightings.