Nine flamingos that were blown off course during a storm last month appear to have taken up residence in Malportas Pond in North Side.
Department of Environment officials expected the flock to continue its migratory route shortly after the storm, but for unknown reasons, they have stayed around.
The pink birds are a rare sight in Grand Cayman, and when the flock first arrived, their origins were quite a mystery. Soon, however, Department of Environment officials were able to track down where they came from because one of the birds was tagged.
“We now know that the tagged flamingo was one of 500 individuals that were tagged on Sept. 7 in Angostura Island in the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Yucatán, Mexico,” said Department of Environment research officer Jessica Harvey. The reserve is more than 1,000 miles from Cayman.
The tagged bird was identified by Dr. Leonardo Guerrero, who works for flamingo conservation initiative Programa Integral de Conservación del Flamenco Caribeño.
Ms. Harvey said Dr. Guerrero wrote in response to Department of Environment enquiries: “The report you sent is the first observation of the marked specimen and the first for this geographic location, which is of great significance for the follow-up of the Caribbean flamingo populations. The nearest area, with reports of flamingos born in Mexico is located in Zapata swamp [in Cuba] in the year 2012.”
Five of the 14 birds in the flock died during the storm. Pathologist Dr. Veronica Boling and students of St. Matthew’s University, who performed necropsies, issued a report that shows that the five birds appear to have died as a result of running into a power line.
“Based on the history and gross lesions, all birds had what is consistent with acute trauma, collision fractures from interaction with power lines. Most fractures involved the cervical vertebrae (broken necks). A few had broken legs,” states the necropsy report.
“It is likely that weather had contributed to the mass fatalities, as strong winds were documented around the time of the incident … If these birds were attempting to land (especially at night), it is possible they did not see the power lines and crashed into them, or were possibly blown into the power lines due to the winds. Regardless, the result was fatal,” the report continued.
While resting at the local saltwater pond, the birds are becoming come somewhat of an attraction.
Gerardo Ochoa-Vargas, who is a member of the “Big Brothers Big Sisters” program, which pairs youngsters with mentors, thought a trip to see the flamingos would be the perfect adventure for his “little brother.”
Alex Richardson, 14, has been paired with Mr. Ochoa-Vargas for the past six years and the two often go on adventures throughout the island together.
“We usually do crazy adventures, which are safe and always interesting. This time we went to take a look at the flamingos just for fun,” said Mr. Ochoa-Vargas.
After seeing the birds on the pond on Nov. 1, the two decided to plan a full-blown adventure to get a closer look.
“It’s thanks to Alex that we could get this close,” said Mr. Ochoa-Vargas. “As we were approaching, he said, ‘stop paddling or they will fly away. I’ll push the boat instead’ and he got out of the raft, slowly and patiently pushing the raft.” The pair were only about 12 feet from the wild birds and managed to take several photographs.
“I have never been this close. Perhaps the closest I was was 100 meters (330 feet) away,” said Mr. Ochoa-Vargas. The long-legged birds were not alarmed by the two visitors, and were as “curious as we were,” he said.
Department of Environment officials say they have no idea why the birds have made the local pond their home for so long.
In the meantime, “local avid bird enthusiasts are currently reporting to Dr. Guerrero to give data on the birds when they can,” said Ms. Harvey.
For those interested in getting a look at the nine birds up close, they are just off of Hutland Road in North Side. However, be warned that the journey involves hours of careful paddling and crawling in the mud, said Mr. Ochoa-Vargas.