Gary Johnston didn't choose the flamingos. They chose him.
He's the man who tends the ever-shifting flock of kitschy lawn ornaments that greet motorists along the east side of Highway 61 between 80th Street and Summit Avenue in Cottage Grove.
Johnston, whose property abuts the highway, recently rearranged the colony of flamingoes - also known collectively as a flamboyance - to reflect the biological imperatives of the season.
"You may notice that they're all, as they say, 'kanoodling,'" he said. "That's the intent. Spring is in the air. That's what birds do this time of year."
Johnston's career as Cottage Grove's resident flamingo whisperer began last year after he received seven of the birds as a birthday present.
"Of course I had to put them somewhere and I was doing some work on the lower property," he said. "I had no idea they would be so popular."
The birds have become a hit on social media, where Johnston has been feted as the flamingo master. Somebody created a Cottage Grove Flamingos Facebook page, where visitors post their own photos of the Highway 61 gang as well as other flamingo-themed memes and updates.
"We had no idea," he said. "People started telling us about it."
Even real life fowl are taking an interest in his birds.
"Turkeys were checking out the flamingos," reads one post on the Facebook page. "Not your typical place to pick up chicks!"
Johnston recently discovered a white flamingo among his flock. How it got there is anybody's guess. The white bird may be allergic to shellfish, since flamingos get their pink hue from their steady diet of shrimp.
Johnston's career as a flamingo whisperer began 35 years ago, when he was a single guy living in Hawaii. He and his three roommates threw a housewarming party.
"Probably 50 or more showed up," Johnston recalled. "About 35 each brought a flamingo to plant in our remarkably tiny front yard."
He let the flock stand for a while before removing them for the sake of the neighbors.
"I'm sure that first week or so they were wondering, 'Oh no,'" he said.
History repeated itself 35 years later. Johnston had married and relocated to Cottage Grove.
He came home one day to find a flamingo flash mob in his front yard.
This time, the culprits were his neighbors in the Acorn Ridge development and his son, Joey. Inspired by his story of the Hawaii flamingo fest, they'd decided to repeat the stunt for Johnston's 59th birthday.
Once he relocated the birds to the roadside behind his house, motorists started honking. Some slowed down to snap photos. Social media began buzzing.
Joey, 18, a senior at Park High School, used the flamingos in his promposal to his friend Brooke Strenke. He erected the pink letters PROM and used one of the flamingoes as the question mark.
"He slow-rolled her past the sign on Highway 61," Johnston said.
Johnston changes the grouping periodically. A practitioner of flamingo feng shui, he insists on keeping an odd number of birds.
Once, he put one flamingo in a tree and grouped the others at the base.
"Everybody kinds of makes up their own stories about the flamingoes," he said. "The widely held conception is that the flamingo up in the tree was a suicidal flamingo and the rest were trying to talk him down."