In 1934, Joseph Widener imported the first flock of flamingos from Cuba to inhabit the infield lake at Hialeah Park. Since their introduction, these exotic, colorful birds have become a widely recognized trademark of Hialeah Park and South Florida. In fact, when the Florida Lottery was started in 1986, lottery officials used the iconic Hialeah flamingo as part of their official logo in the hopes of providing Floridians with a familiar image. The Flamingos were also frequently used as the backdrop for major feature films and television shows, including the opening of the hit show “Miami Vice” and the feature films “The Champ” and the hit “Let It Ride”. As much a Hialeah staple now as they were then, the Flamingos will once again take to the air in a breathtaking spectacle known as “The Flight of the Flamingos” when live racing returns to Hialeah Park on November 29th, 2013.
The flamingo colony itself was hatched and raised all at the race track. In fact, Hialeah Park is the only place the species has been successfully reproduced outside its wild state. For that reason, the infield area of the racetrack was deemed a National Audubon Sanctuary. Related to the heron family, the flamingo is a wading bird, preferring to live in shallow marshlands. Each spring, the birds nest on volcano-shaped mounds of clay built in a shallow pool on their infield lake. The female flamingo lays one egg a year and both parents take turns tending to the nest during the incubation period, which is usually about 30 days. When the small, greyish-white baby bird is hatched, it will eat its shell as a first meal.
The colony itself has been used as a way of spreading Flamingos throughout North America, with birds donated to zoos in Miami and St Louis, as well as to Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, California.