In the past eight years, two flamingos have fallen from the sky in Siberia, mystifying both the people who discovered them and the scientists who are trying to explain how the tropical birds got there. The flamingos are still alive and thriving; they were found and taken in by different sets of Siberian locals, who eventually sent them to the zoo (after housing them, in one case, in their living room!).
The more interesting question is how the flamingos got to Siberia in the first place. Robert Krulwich and Ezra Block explore the conundrum in a piece for NPR, explaining that although, contrary to popular belief, flamingos don’t live exclusively in tropical locales, it is surprising that they ended up in Siberia. Marita Davison, a flamingo scholar at Cornell, explained that in the Andes Mountains, where she frequently observes flamingos, the lakes actually freeze around their feet. “It’s really an amazing sight to see,” she said. “They’ll just wait for it to thaw and then go on [with] their business.”
Bolivia still isn’t as cold as Siberia though, and Davison says that their presence above the Russian skies is nevertheless confusing. She also pointed out that because flamingos travel in flocks, the fact that two lone flamingos appeared most likely means that there are more flamingos around, even if they’re not literally falling from the sky. And this isn’t the first time that this has happened – a century ago, flamingos were spotted in the same place, and around the same time of year.
So what’s the theory? According to Davison, these are probably Asian flamingos who live and nest in Kazakhstan. During November, they migrate south to Iran, but sometimes, birds engage in what is called “reverse migration,” or flying exactly in the opposite direction. This, Davison speculates, is what happened to these flamingos, although patterns of reverse migration haven’t been seen in them before. So even thoguh it might be tempted to see this as a freak of global warming or some kind of inexplicable event, it could also be a “statistically predictable” phenomenon. If that’s true, we’ll probably see flamingos in Siberian skies again.
The flamingos ended up in a Siberian zoo, where they lived among other, imported birds until one of them died “after a long illness.” It’s hard to know what happened to the flocks of flamingos who may have been flying with them, but both incidents are examples of apparently bizarre phenomena that actually turn out to be completely natural.
Photo from Flickr.