It's definitely not something you see every day. About 2,000 pink flamingos appeared Sunday night in Boston's seaport. But how? And why?
The flock members didn't alight using their own wings because the birds can't fly. On the first evening of spring a team of wranglers began unloading their plastic, avian cargo under the cover of darkness.
“We're doing a little fly by night art installation on Seaport Common, which is basically the public square of Seaport,” Emily Soukas explained, “and so we're placing thousands of pink lawn flamingos throughout the neighborhood.”
Soukas is part of the team that masterminded this unusual migration. She's a senior manager of activations and partnerships for WS Development, the company that's been building up 33 acres of mixed-use property in the Seaport. It's the largest development in Boston.
Throughout the evening Soukas and a dozen others unpacked a truckload of boxes filled with unassembled, Pepto Bismol-colored birds.
“Every flamingo is a little bit different, and so it's just a matter of getting them into the ground,” Soukas said. “It seems simple, but many hands make light work, so we'll be here till it's done.”
They inserted spindley metal legs – thousands of them – into the flamingos' curvaceous, hollow bodies before fanning out to stick them into the thawed ground. By night's end a sea of festive looking birds would fill six patches of grass and a few other green spaces in the neighborhood.
This mission's purpose is to delight people who encounter them.
“To hopefully lighten the mood as we're almost to spring, but not quite there,” Soukas said with a laugh, “we all need a little extra happiness and joy to to get us over that hump, I think.”
Especially after the long pandemic winter.
It's Soukas's job to come up with ideas for installations in the seaport and a slew of projects have enlivened an area dominated by glass and steel skyscrapers. She and her colleagues started brainstorming a few months ago to find something surprising for March.
“A couple of us had known lawn flamingos over the course of our lives in various instances and iterations, and we thought, 'could we do that?”
So the team conducted a little research, “And sure enough, the flamingos are made right here in Massachusetts. So we thought this is meant to be.”
Union Products (which merged with Cado Manufacturing) in Leominster has been manufacturing the lawn ornaments since a Fitchburg resident and artist dreamed them up in 1957.
“Don Featherstone – who sculpted the mold for the original Flamingo – had never actually encountered a flamingo in his life,” Soukas learned. “He saw them on the cover of a National Geographic magazine. And then fast-forward 70 years and you have this iconic piece of pop art that has had so many iterations over the past decades.”
Flip a flamingo over and you can find Don Featherstone's name on its stomach.
“Such a plain and simple object,” Soukas added, “but it really has legs.”
Soukas has a background in outdoor pop-up markets and food halls in New York City and believes public art activations can help make a space a place.
“I think what's interesting about Seaport is this emerging neighborhood that is growing out of parking lots,” she said, “and how do you find a way to go around the neighborhood and give it an identity, to make something that's special for seaport and to give people a reason to come down here and to hang out.”
But the real test for the stealthy installation would be how people react the morning after the 1,920 flamingos were firmly in the ground.
After his work out Southie resident Earl Kang stopped to snap a few pictures of the scene.
“There was an invasion of Flamingos overnight,” he said with a wry air of mystery, “it's kind of tripping me out a little bit. Not gonna lie.”
Kang works down the street and said it's been a treat for him to see the series of installations that keep cropping up in this park. Throughout the pandemic he's missed live performances especially, but thinks the flamingos are playful and pretty cool.
There was an invasion of Flamingos overnight. It's kind of tripping me out a little bit. Not gonna lie.Earl Kang
“When you're a kid and you get to the zoo and you see them for the first time and you're like, 'whoa, pink birds!” he recalled, adding, “These are really pink.”
On his way to work at the Amazon facility Charles Lagoa also stopped to pull out his phone.
“I had to come take a look, I want to take a picture and send it to my wife,” he said with his breakfast in his hand. “Won't see this where I'm from, it's definitely different.”
Karine Lemy noticed the flamingos being installed Sunday night and wondered if they'd actually follow through with filling the whole park with hundreds of flamingos.
“But yeah they certainly did,” she said, then laughed as she shared her opinion. “I don't know, it looks kind of – eh. Doesn't look like Seaport to me because there's no Flamingos around here. I don't know, put some clams or lobster or something.”
After shopping with her husband Jean Philip described the blanket of flamingos as being spectacular. “You expect the birds to fly off any minute,” she said, “It's good. It's what we need down here, I think, rather than just the buildings.”
People in the seaport aren't the only ones who can get a kick out of this kind of absurd looking display of birds. At the end of the month the flamboyance is splitting up to migrate to other WS Development properties in Chestnut Hill and Lynnfield.
The flamingos remain on view in the Seaport until March 30.
This segment aired on March 23, 2021.