The flamingos of Sunken Gardens are still in the bathroom. Don’t worry, they’re doing just fine.
On the day Hurricane Ian crashed into Florida, the century-old roadside attraction posted a picture of its Chilean flamingos huddling in front of restroom stalls. The Instagram caption of the now-viral image described the animals, “having quite the hurricane party; eating, drinking and dancing.”
“It was just mainly for our members and folks that follow us,” said supervising director Dwayne Biggs. “It’s gone all over the country.”
Sunken Gardens started preparing for the storm last week. The animals, which are used to spending the night inside, often weather storms in another hurricane-proof building on the premises.
But as projections predicted a catastrophic storm barreling directly towards Tampa Bay, Sunken Gardens didn’t want to take any chances. The animals would hunker down in the main building, a two-story fortress supported by steel beams.
The flock went into the women’s powder room next to the main lobby. If you’ve stopped to use the restroom before checking out the gift shop, perhaps the picture looked familiar.
“We’re going to sterilize and clean it afterwards,” Biggs said with a laugh on Thursday. “We’ll be moving them out first thing tomorrow morning.”
The ladies’ room isn’t a bad place for a group of tropical birds. There’s tile and waterproof stalls, plus drains throughout the floor.
“Actually it’s pretty close to what you would design for an animal-holding overnight facility,” he said. “And it was the perfect size for our 21 flamingos.”
With the exception of the koi fish that swim in ponds throughout the gardens, all of the animals holed up in the main building. The enclosures of other birds — including macaws, Amazon parrots, cockatoos and a kookaburra from Australia — were moved to a classroom. A little over a dozen red-footed tortoises burrowed into a straw-lined trough in the men’s room.
The flamingos needed extra care. Three staff members took turns bringing the birds one at a time.
“There’s a special technique to carry them safely,” Biggs said. “Their legs are very delicate, so there’s a certain way to grab the legs and tuck them underneath and kind of cuddle them… That took some time.”
They spent the storm snuggling together and slurping up their usual meal of soaked flamingo-formulated pellets. Biggs checked on them every hour through the night.
After a whirlwind 48 hours at the gardens, he’s finally going home. The flamingos will stay in the bathroom one more night, to allow time for the wind to die down and workers to clear debris. Since the storm wasn’t nearly as bad as forecasters feared, Sunken Gardens hopes to reopen Saturday morning. A wedding is scheduled that afternoon.
While the flock isn’t moving just yet, their photo continues to fly around the internet.
“I’m glad we posted that,” Biggs said. “It’s kind of provided a little bit of breath of air here after this storm.”
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Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Ian coverage
HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.
TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges, roads in Ian’s aftermath
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
POST-STORM QUESTIONS: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to slam Tampa Bay head on. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF A HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen quickly after Hurricane Ian passes? It depends.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.