By Kevin Murphy
(Reuters) - An African flamingo that escaped a Wichita, Kansas, zoo eight years ago has been spotted living with a companion cavorting in the Gulf of Mexico, some 670 miles to the south.
The five-foot tall bird, more white than pink and still wearing a leg band bearing its zoo-assigned number, 492, was seen last week in an inlet off Port Lavaca, Texas, by birder Neil Hayward, who described the sighting in a blog.
The sighting didn't surprise Scott Newland, curator of birds for the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, which the bird departed in 2005.
"Every year or so we get a call," Newland said, noting that the African species is not a normal sighting for North American birders.
The flamingo escaped in summer and was first sighted in Wisconsin, Newland said. Apparently seeking warm weather, the bird has spent most of his escape around Texas and Louisiana, Newland said, citing reports from bird-watchers.
The bird, which had come to the zoo in 2002, escaped after keepers failed to clip his wings.
"As soon as he had the chance, he flew out of here," Newland said. "His instincts are honed to do that."
The zoo has never attempted to retrieve the bird, which began its life in the wild and is naturally wary of being approached by people, Newland said. The flamingo is 18 years old and could live to 50, Newland said.
For years, the bird has been seen with another banded flamingo, which Hayward said came from a colony reared on the northern tip of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. Flamingos pair up for life, but the genders of the two flamingos are unknown, Newland said, even though he refers to the escapee as a "he."
While a little embarrassed that the flamingo flew the coop, Newland says he is happy to know that it is thriving in the wild after three years in the zoo.
"It's a testament to the adaptability of these animals," he said.
(Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by Scott Malone)