You are walking through the zoo with your nephew at your hip. He’s 6, his name is Dylan, and he is the reason you’re here.
You’re babysitting and he told you that he likes animals. You responded, “I know where we should go, you’re going to love it.”
You and Dylan round the corner into the tropical quarter of the zoo and before you stand fifteen fluorescent pink flamingos. Dylan looks up at you and says, “They’re so pink! I bet those taste like cotton candy, do you think we could eat one?”
Dylan is a weird kid. Except Dylan is not the only one asking this question, “can you eat a flamingo?” is a common search on online search engines.
Something about flamingos makes people wonder “Can I eat that?” The short answer is YES, you can eat a flamingo, but NO, you probably shouldn’t.
Why You Can Eat Flamingo
There is a long history of humans consuming flamingos. They were considered a delicacy in ancient Rome.
Pliny the Elder (not to be confused with Pliny the Younger, of course), a Roman natural scientist, a friend of Emperor Vespasian, and the father of the modern Encyclopedia, wrote that Ancient Romans found the tongue of the flamingo to have “the most exquisite flavor.”
“Yes, I’ll have the flamingo tongue please, medium rare.” – Some ancient Roman guy probably.
The tongue wasn’t the only part of the Flamingo that was consumed in Ancient Rome. According to the 5th-century Roman cookbook Apicius, Flamingo was boiled with a variety of spices and served with a spiced date sauce.
Don’t panic if you’re fresh out of flamingo though, Apicius is clear that the flamingo can be substituted by a parrot.
Flamingos are aquatic birds that dine primarily on algae, crustaceans, and small fish. Because of this, flamingo meat tastes like other aquatic birds with similar diets, such as ducks, or geese.
Flamingo eggs are also edible for humans. They have been used as a staple in the diet of certain cultures historically, and continue to be consumed in various places around the globe.
Flamingos occasionally show up for sale in food markets around the world, such as Mumbai. However, in many places around the world, it does not end well for the individuals who try to sell flamingos.
The next section will clarify why this is the case.
Why You Should NOT Eat Flamingo
A little history: In the 1800s, plume hats became all the rage. (If you don’t know what a plume hat is, picture a hat that is the brainchild of someone who thought headgear modeled after a peacock trying to attract a mate would be a great look).
Hunters saw this fashion trend as an opportunity to make some money and began hunting birds with colorful feathers. Many populations of colorful birds were decimated by hunters and poachers during this time.
The flamingo was one of these populations. There were thriving populations of flamingos in Southern Florida and the surrounding Caribbean islands that were nearly wiped out.
As a result of the rising number of endangered bird species, multiple countries, including the United States, Mexico, and Russia, signed a treaty agreeing to protect flamingos and other endangered migratory birds.
This treaty, called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, ensured the federal protection of flamingos. In other words, the treaty made it illegal to hunt and kill flamingos.
The penalty for violating the Migratory Bird Act can be a fine of up to $15,000, or a prison sentence of up to six months. No flamingo tongue can be so good that it is worth risking that level of punishment.
This is why though you CAN eat a flamingo, you probably SHOULD NOT eat a flamingo.
What To Do If You REALLY Want to Eat a Flamingo
If, despite all the above information, you still really want to try flamingo, there is a chance you can do so legally.
In the United States, one can get a Migratory Bird Permit, which allows one to hunt, sell, or buy flamingos or their eggs. However, these permits are difficult to attain as they are only granted under very special circumstances, and “I just want to know what they taste like” does not meet the criteria for getting one of these permits.
There is one other loophole though. Any flamingo or flamingo egg that was lawfully acquired prior to the protection being extended to flamingos may be legally possessed without a permit.
This means that if you happen to have a great-grandmother who bought a flamingo in 1917 to make a plume hat, and somehow still has it, you’re in luck! To be clear, it would probably not be the best idea to eat it, that’s an old flamingo.
Thanks to the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty, and the limited amount of loopholes it provides, the population of flamingos is on the rise in the areas they are protected.
In 2020, the population of the American Flamingo was assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (or the IUCN), for the Red List of Threatened Species, and was deemed to be of the least concern for endangerment. This is really good news.