Full circle: Phoenicopterus Plasticus rose – Austin Daily Herald
By Peggy Keener
Front lawns mysteriously all over Austin will soon turn a blazing pink of Pepto Bismol. What is happening? Was there an explosion in Walgreen’s indigestion alley or are the tchotchkes just taking over our town?
The credit (blame?) Goes to the wildly devoted Friends of the Library, who once again strive to fill the library chests, one flamingo at a time. Last fall we started too late and were puzzled as to how to get the steel flamingo legs stuck in the frozen ground. Now smarter, we plan to drive them into some beautiful, sweet summer land.
For your information, flamingos (flesh or plastic) are not native to Austin. Fashion began in 1957 when sculptor Don Featherstone was hired by a Massachusetts plastics company to create a flamingo. Why do you ask?
Well, it looked like almost every post WWII house looked the same. People couldn’t get home! To keep confused people from tripping and bumping into each other, one woman thought a flamingo might be the answer.
And it was! Incredibly, the skinny pink plastic bird has turned her mundane home into a unique tropical paradise!
But, hold on. First Featherstone had to sculpt one. To begin with, where would he find a flamingo in Massachusetts? And then how would he get him to pose? After two laborious weeks, he finally created a mold from a National Geographic photo.
Like flies on a ham sandwich, the plastic flamingos have multiplied. Everywhere you looked, they were raising unintentionally mundane yards in a jazzy eye feast. The trendy neighborhoods were blazing with color. Pink!
And then the poultry collided. In just ten short years, birds with skinny legs fell out of favor with people who viewed their elegant personalities as having higher sensitivity. “Tacky” was their way of describing the art of the pink court when they, the well-to-do, scoffed at the humble taste of the plebeians.
Alas, flamingos were also driven to near extinction by nature lovers of the Woodstock era whose cosmos did not include plastic birds resembling Ichabod cranes. Even Sears pulled them out of their catalogs… a damning statement as powerful as a command from above.
It was Andy Warhol, the pop artist, who turned low eyebrows into high eyebrows. Thanks to him, the flamingos are resurrected like phoenixes from their ashes – or more precisely from molten pink plastic.
Flamingo Factoids: They come in six distinct species, are four to five feet tall, and weigh four-eight pounds. Gathering in the mudflats, they find saltwater prey by stirring up the swampy muck with their feet. Then scooping up the glue in foamy beaks, they filter it for food while expectorating the dirty water. They do it upside down! However, you should not try this at home or in a mudflat. You are not a flamingo.
The flamingo feathers are elegant and cling to their bodies like pink naugahyde on a wing chair. Neither embarrassment nor shyness are the reasons for their rosy hue. It comes from the beta-carotene in the shellfish and plankton they eat. The flamingos in the zoo turn white if their diet is not supplemented with live shrimp or special food for flamingos containing carotenoid pigments. (Fortunately, plastic flamingos don’t have this problem.)
Their pink is simply remarkable. Imagine what a rainbow of beauty they would be if each species ate different colors. One group may eat only purple grape popsicles, while the others eat only blue blueberries… or black licorice… or green beans… or yellow egg yolks. They should wear flamingo sunglasses to protect their eyes from the brilliant kaleidoscopic results!
Black feathers appear under their wings, visible only in flight. (Our rental birds don’t have black feathers under their armpits. Plus, they can’t fly.) But, wow! Wouldn’t a huge flock of flamingos make great spokespersons for breast cancer awareness?
Very social creatures, they remain in herds of several hundred. (There is no trace, however, of a genuflecting flamingo meeting Queen Elizabeth. Seriously now, their legs awkwardly bent backwards would make a highly unacceptable curtsy.) Dancing fans, each flock takes on a slightly different turn. to its ritual flamingo flamenco. If successful, they get married and build a love nest.
There are, though, lazy flamingos that steal nests rather than building their own. Flamingos nest builders need to guard against these low lives while they share sitting on their only egg. It takes a month of non-stop user-friendliness. No one knows for sure what they are talking about during this time.
The flamingo chick is fed by both parents. First with a liquid baby food called “crop milk” which is produced in their throats and later when their parents regurgitate regular flamingo food. Gerbers don’t sell that.
The chicks have gray and white feathers. No rose appears for about two years when their straight beaks begin to curl.
I have a feeling that the flamingos are not particularly religious. I think they atone for past sins by doing nothing. It may well have something to do with their questioning whether to wear neon pink in a denominational booth.
They certainly don’t have a lot of humor. Like when was the last time you heard a flamingo play a joke?
And contrary to popular (albeit mistaken) belief, flamingos do not give birth to babies. Storks rule here… or the staff of the new Mayo Women’s Center. Plus, flamingos don’t make good pets. Shrimp dinners are expensive and their nests are messy.
Due to their pink color, flamingos do not make good undercover sleuths. Plus, you shouldn’t be eating one for Thanksgiving. Who wants to munch on those skinny, loooong drumsticks… and their buffalo wings wouldn’t fit on your plate!
The flamingos are not in danger because their nests are built on swamps or mudflats. Predatory birds are their biggest enemies although I don’t consider hummingbirds to be a danger.
The good news is, having your own flock of Austin flamingos is really, really easy. Fill out an online order form (https://forms.gle/FY3YPaSvw2jck2g99) or go to the library (12 birds – $ 12, $ 24 – $ 24, and $ 36 – $ 36). Orders open June 28 and flocking goes from July 12 to August 30. Last year we were overwhelmed so order early.