Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
John Hollenhorst ReportingContamination may have made Utah's best known bird sick. Pink Floyd, the wild flamingo, is said to be acting weird, and mercury may be to blame, but many are plenty skeptical.
There's a lot we don't know about Pink Floyd. We're not even sure if Utah's only wild flamingo is a boy or a girl. Evidence that Floyd is sick is practically non-existent. But the very real issue of mercury contamination has Floyd's Friends very jumpy.
The spectacular bird has won over many hearts since escaping from Tracy Aviary in the 1980's. Just before Floyd flew away for the summer a few months ago, Jim Platte, founder of Friends of Floyd, shot some video with a friend.
Jim Platte, Friends of Floyd: "We like to come out and hang out with Floyd."
On the video Platte says Floyd's behavior suggests a neurological problem.
Jim Platte: "And we both noticed he was kind of doing a head shake. And a number of times he reached up with his foot and scratched himself on the side of the head."
Later, Platte learned about mercury contamination and he says he put two and two together.
Jim Platte: "The highest levels of mercury ever recorded in the environment are in the Great Salt Lake, and it's very likely it's all the way up into the food chain and into the brine shrimp."
Utah wildlife officials wonder if Platte put two and two together and got the wrong answer.
Tom Aldrich, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: "We spend a lot of time counting birds on the Great Salt Lake and I haven't seen any behavior from ducks that would suggest a problem."
Some tentative answers may be coming soon. The state is in the midst of testing birds from the Great Salt Lake to see if they have mercury contamination.
Tom Aldrich: We've just completed our sampling of waterfowl. We sent those to the lab and we should know in a week or two."
Meanwhile, at Pink Flamingo Central in Tracy Aviary, we saw similar head shaking and beak scratching. An expert reviewed just a few seconds of the Floyd video.
Patty Shreve, Tracy Aviary: "So I can't say for sure. I have seen our birds who are very normal and healthy shake their head in that manner."
Whatever. The worry is still there for Jim Platte. He's now abandoned his dream of importing South American flamingoes to live in the lake and become Friends of Floyd.
Jim Platte: "Wouldn't be right to do that to another living thing."
That colorful plan to import pink flamingoes from South America never got much traction here in Utah. Just a month ago, the Division of Wildlife firmly rejected Platte's proposal, saying it created risks of ecological damage.