INDIAN SHORES — The confused and exhausted flamingo rescued from the Gulf of Mexico, 800 yards from the shores of St. Pete Beach, is doing fine, getting playtime and even has a name.
“The people who found it call it Peaches,” said Melissa Edwards, director of the Dr. Marie L. Farr Avian Hospital at Indian Shores’ Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, where the flamingo was taken.
But that doesn’t mean the bird is female. “It’s hard to know with flamingos,” Edwards said. “Males are a little bit larger, but it’s hard to tell with just one. So, we’re just using ‘they.’”
Peaches was discovered Friday during a boat trip meant to assess Hurricane Idalia’s impact on beach erosion. The passengers, including Madeira Beach Commissioner Anne-Marie Brooks, spotted Peaches swimming away from shore.
With the help of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Tampa Bay, Peaches was rescued and taken to the sanctuary.
“There were no major injuries,” Edwards said. “But they were pretty tuckered out. So, we did some assisted tube feedings and fluid therapy until they started eating on their own, which was Sunday. Slowly, they’re regaining their strength via exercise time.”
Peaches is too tall to stretch their wings and legs in one of the sanctuary’s typical outdoor exercise pens, so the bird has been using a separate room inside the hospital.
“We call it recess,” Edwards laughed.
In the wild, flamingos eat small crustaceans, tiny fish and algae, Edwards said. At the sanctuary, Peaches is eating a mix of crustaceans and a special flamingo formula provided by Busch Gardens.
Wild flamingos are a rarity in the Tampa Bay area. They’re based mostly in places like South Florida, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. But since Hurricane Idalia, they have been spotted in locations including the Sanibel Causeway, Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs and Treasure Island Beach.
A state research director for Audubon Florida recently told the Tampa Bay Times that the storm swept up the pink birds and pushed them farther north than they normally go.
Edwards hopes that Peaches can be released by the end of the week.
In the meantime, local bird-watching groups are monitoring the movements of groups of flamingos so that Peaches can rejoin their friends.
“They’re flap-flapping a little more actively,” Edwards said. “They will be fine.”