I Scientific classification
II Habitat and distribution
III Physical characteristics
V Adaptations for their environment
VII Diet and eating habits
IX Hatching and care of young
XI Longevity and causes of death
XII Flamingoes in Bonaire
I Scientific classification
A. Class Aves (birds).
B. Order Ciconiiformes.
1. Members of this order have long legs and long necks. Order Ciconiiformes also includes storks, herons, and ibises.
2. The classification of flamingos has puzzled taxonomists for years. The skeletal structure, egg-white proteins, and behavior patterns cause scientists to link flamingos to various groups.
a. The pelvis and ribs of a flamingo are similar to those of storks.
b. The composition of egg-white proteins in flamingo eggs are similar to that of the herons.
c. Behavior patterns, especially those of chicks, link them closely to geese (order Anseriformes). Flamingos also have webbed feet and waterproof plumage like geese.
3. Some scientists classify flamingos in their own order, Phoenicopteriformes.
C. Family Phoenicopteridae.
Flamingos are the only members of the family Phoenicopteridae. Distinguishing characteristics include long legs; a long, curved neck; and a gooselike voice.
D. Genus, species.
There are five species of flamingos divided into three genera:
1. Phoenicopterus ruber is divided into two distinct and geographically separated subspecies: P. r. ruber and P. r. roseus.
a. P. r. ruber, the Caribbean flamingo, is slightly smaller than P. r. roseus.
b. P. r. roseus, the greater flamingo, is the largest of the flamingos and has deep pink wings.
2. Phoenicopterus chilensis, the Chilean flamingo. Chilean flamingos are slightly smaller than Caribbean flamingos and have gray legs with pink bands at the joints.
3. Phoeniconaias minor, the lesser flamingo. This species is the smallest of all flamingos. The color of the lesser flamingo is brighter than the greater flamingo.
4. Phoenicoparrus jamesi, the James’ flamingo. This species is characterized by having all black flight feathers, including the secondary flight feathers, which are red in other species.
5. Phoenicoparrus andinus, the Andean flamingo. This is the only species of flamingo that has yellow legs and feet. It also has a red spot between the nostrils.
E. Fossil record.
1. Fossil evidence indicates that the group from which flamingos evolved is very old and existed about 30 million years ago, before many other avian orders had evolved.
2. The discovery and study of a fossil in 1976 suggested that flamingos arose from ancient shorebirds.
3. Fossilized flamingo footprints, estimated to be seven million years old, have been found in the Andes Mountains.
II Habitat and distribution
1. All flamingos are found in tropical and subtropical areas.
2. Populations of Chilean flamingos are found in central Peru, both coasts of southern South America (mainly in the winter), Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil. Stragglers have been reported on the Falkland Islands.
3. The lesser flamingo is primarily an African species. Populations are found in eastern, southwestern, and western Africa. Also, a sizable population nests in India. Stragglers can be found as far north as southern Spain.
4. The James’ flamingo has the most restricted range of all flamingo species. They are found in southern Peru, northeastern Chile, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.
5. Andean flamingos are found in southern Peru, north-central Chile, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.
6. Populations of Caribbean flamingo are limited to Yucatan, parts of the West Indies, Bahamas, Galapagos Islands, and the northernmost tip of South America.
7. The greater flamingo has the most widespread distribution of all flamingo species. Populations are found in northwest India, the Middle East, the western Mediterranean, and Africa. Limited numbers of this species can be found over much of northern Europe, eastward to Siberia.
1. The flamingo’s most characteristic habitats are large alkaline or saline lakes or estuarine lagoons that usually lack vegetation. Lakes may be far inland or near the sea.
2. A variety of habitats are used by flamingos: mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands in the intertidal zone.
3. The presence or absence of fish may have a great influence on the use of lakes by some flamingos.
a. The Chilean flamingo is scarce or absent in lakes with fish. It is present, usually in large numbers, where there are no fish with which to compete for food.
b. The introduction of fish to some lakes may seriously affect the distribution of the Chilean flamingo as well as the greater and Caribbean flamingos, since they all feed primarily on invertebrates. Other flamingo species are not affected because of different food sources.
1. Flamingos are generally non-migratory birds. However, due to changes in the climate and water levels in their breeding areas, flamingo colonies are not always permanent.
a. Populations that breed in high-altitude lakes, which may freeze over in the winter, move to warmer areas.
b. When water levels rise, birds may search for more favorable sites.
c. Drought conditions may force some flamingo populations to relocate.
2. Most flamingos that migrate will return to their native colony to breed. However, some may join a neighboring colony.
3. When flamingos migrate, they do so mainly at night. They prefer to fly with a cloudless sky and favorable tailwinds. They can travel approximately 600 km (373 miles) in one night at about 50 to 60 kph (31-37 mph). When traveling during the day, the flamingos fly at high altitudes, possibly to avoid predation by eagles.
4. The movements of the greater flamingo population living in Carmarque in southern France have been closely monitored since 1977.
a. Most of the birds leave in September, but some are sedentary and stay through the winter.
b. Most flamingos that leave the colony go either southwest to winter in Spain, or southeast to winter in Tunisia and Turkey.
c. The percentage of birds that travel east or west seems to depend on the direction of the prevailing winds in the birds’ first autumn.
III Physical characteristics
1. The greater flamingo is the tallest flamingo, standing 110 to 130 cm (43-51 in.) and weighing up to 3.5 kg (7.7 lb.).
2. The lesser flamingo is the smallest flamingo, standing 80 cm (31.5 in.) and weighing only 2.5 kg (5.5 lb.).
3. Males reach full size between one-and-a-half and two years.
4. Male flamingos are slightly larger than females, weighing more and having longer wingspans; however, visual sex determination of flamingos is unreliable.
5. The wingspan of flamingos ranges from 95 to 100 cm (37-39 in.) for the lesser flamingo to 140 to 165 cm (55-65 in.) for the greater flamingo. The Caribbean flamingo has a wingspan of 150 cm (59 in.).
There are five species of flamingos. Two species belong to the genus Phoenicopterus. P. ruber is divided into two subspecies, P. r. ruber and P. r. roseus.
1. Feather color varies with species, ranging from pale pink to crimson or vermilion.
a. Caribbean flamingos have the brightest coloration: crimson or vermilion.
b. The Chilean flamingo is pale pink.
2. Feather coloration is derived from carotenoid pigments found in a flamingo’s food.
3. Male and female flamingo coloration is the same.
4. Newly-hatched chicks are gray or white.
5. Juveniles are grayish, taking approximately one to two years to obtain full adult coloration.
6. Parents lose their pink coloration while raising young if they are still feeding chicks through the adult’s molting period.
7. Coloration of flamingos’ legs and feet varies according to species from yellow to orange or pink-red. The Andean flamingo is the only species that has yellow legs and feet.
Long legs and a long, curved neck are characteristics of all flamingo species.
a. Adult flamingos’ legs are long and spindled. The legs are longer than the flamingo’s body, measuring between 80 and 125 cm (31.5-49 in.) depending on the species.
b. The ankle is located about halfway up the leg.
c. The knee is located close to the body and is not externally visible.
a. The Chilean, greater, and lesser flamingos have three forward-pointing toes and a hallux, or hind toe.
b. Andean and James’ flamingos have three toes and no hallux.
c. Webbing between the toes aids the bird in swimming and stirring up food.
d. Coloration of the feet and legs is the same.
a. The wingspan of flamingos ranges from 95 to 100 cm (37-39 in.) on the lesser flamingo to 140 to 165 cm (55-65 in.) on the greater flamingo. The Caribbean flamingo has a wingspan of 150 cm (59 in.).
b. There are 12 principal flight feathers located on each wing. These black feathers are visible when the wings are extended.
The neck is long and sinuous. A flamingo has 19 elongated cervical (neck) vertebrae allowing for maximum movement and twisting.
a. The eyes are located on either side of the head.
b. Flamingo chicks have gray eyes for approximately the first year of life. Adult flamingos have yellow eyes.
a. An adult flamingo’s bill is black, pinkish, or cream-colored. Coloration varies according to species.
b. The bill is adapted for filter feeding. The upper and lower bill, or mandible, is angled downward just below the nostril.
(1) The upper mandible is thin and flat, and functions like a lid to the lower mandible. The lower mandible is large and trough- or keel-shaped.
(2) Toothlike ridges on the outside of a flamingo’s bill help filter food from the water.
(3) Both the upper and lower mandibles contain two rows of a bristled, comblike or hairlike structure called lamellae. When the mandibles come together, the lamellae of the upper and lower mandibles mesh.
The number of lamellae in a flamingo’s bill varies according to species. The Andean flamingo has about 9 lamellae per cm (23 per in.). The James’ flamingo has about 21 lamellae per cm (53 per in.). The Chilean flamingo has about 5 to 6 lamellae per cm (13-15 per in.).
(4) James’ and Andean flamingos have a deep, narrow troughlike lower mandible, which allows them to eat small foods such as algae and diatoms.
(5) The lower mandible of Caribbean, greater, and Chilean flamingos is wide, allowing them to feed on larger foods such as brineflies, shrimp, and molluscs.
A newly hatched chick’s bill is straight, then develops the characteristic curve as it matures.
A flamingo’s bill is adapted for filter feeding. The upper and lower bill, or mandible, is angled downward just below the nostril. The upper mandible is thin and flat, and functions like a lid to the lower mandible. The lower mandible is large and trough- or keel-shaped.
A flamingo’s large, fleshy tongue is covered with bristlelike projections that help filter water and food particles through the lamellae.
1. Adult feathers have a small, delicate, accessory feather arising from the main feather at the point where the quill merges into the shaft of the feather. This is called an aftershaft.
2. There are 12 principal flight feathers located on each wing. These black feathers are visible when the wings are extended.
3. Flamingos have 12 to 16 tail feathers.
4. Contour feathers cover all of the body except the bill and scaled parts of the legs and feet. They protect skin from damage and streamline for flight.
5. Flamingos molt (shed and replace) their wing and body feathers at irregular intervals ranging from twice a year to once every two years. The molt is related to the breeding cycle.
6. Molted feathers lose their color.
Flamingos have good hearing. Vocalizations are important and may be used to keep flocks together and for parent-chick recognition.
1. Vision plays an important role in helping flamingos synchronize collective displays (social behaviors) of several hundred to several thousand birds.
2. Some biologists believe that flamingos’ night vision is poor, but better than a human’s.
3. Like most birds, flamingos are thought to have well-developed color perception.
4. In zoological settings, flamingos recognize their uniformed keepers among visitors.
Tactile organs on the tongue can be used to examine food taken in.
The sense of taste is poorly developed in birds.
Flamingos have little or no sense of smell.
V Adaptations for their environment
A. Swimming and wading.
1. Because flamingos have long legs, they can wade into much deeper water than most other birds. Webbed feet support them on soft mud.
2. When the water is beyond their wading depth, flamingos swim at the surface while feeding. Webbed feet allow the flamingo to swim.
3. There is no evidence that flamingos dive.
4. Flamingos are often seen in dense packs floating on the surface of the water.
Like other birds, flamingos breathe air using lungs. They hold their breath while feeding under water.
1. When flamingos are resting, they may sit down with their legs tucked beneath them or rest standing on one leg.
2. While resting, flamingos face into the wind. This stops wind and rain from penetrating their feathers. When resting on one leg, flamingos can be seen swaying back and forth in the wind.
Flamingos frequently stand on one leg. Curling a leg under the body keeps the foot warm and conserves body heat. Flamingos stand on one leg in both cool and warm environments.
1. To take off, a flamingo runs several steps, begins flapping its wings, and lifts into the air. When landing, the procedure is reversed: the bird touches down and then runs several paces.
2. A flamingo flies with its head and neck stretched out in front and its legs trailing behind.
3. Flight speed of a flock of flamingos can reach 50 to 60 kph (31-37 mph).
4. Flamingos have been known to fly 500 to 600 km (311-373 mi.) each night between habitats.
A flamingo flies with its head and neck stretched out in front and its legs trailing behind.
F. Adaptations for a high-salinity environment.
1. The majority of lakes where flamingos live have extremely high concentrations of salt. The only source of fresh water for some of these birds comes from boiling geysers. They are capable of drinking water at temperatures that approach the boiling point.
2. Flamingos excrete salt through salt glands in the nostrils.
A. Social structure.
1. Flamingos are very social birds. Breeding colonies of a few individual flamingos are rare, while colonies of tens of thousands of birds are common.
2. In zoological parks, flock size ranges from 2 to 340 birds with an average of 71 birds.
Flamingos communicate through a
range of visual displays, including the
B. Social behavior.
1. Flamingos devote considerable time to collective displays before, during, and after breeding.
2. Several hundred to several thousand flamingos are all involved simultaneously with ritualized postures and movements to synchronize breeding.
3. Sometimes only one display is performed, but more often, a predictable sequence of displays are carried out: head-flag, wing-salute, and twist-preen.
a. Head-flag involves stretching the neck and head up as high as possible with the bill pointing upwards, and then rhythmically turning the head from one side to the other.
b. Wing-salute is performed by spreading the wings for a few seconds, showing their strikingly contrasted colors, while the tail is cocked and neck outstretched.
c. Twist-preen entail the bird twisting its neck back and appearing to preen quickly, with its bill behind a partly open wing.
C. Individual behavior.
1. Flamingos spend most of the day feeding, preening (using the bill to distribute oil from a gland at the base of their tail to their feathers for waterproofing), resting, and bathing.
2. Breeding birds feed day or night. Non-breeding birds feed at night and spend the day sleeping or involved in comfort activities, such as bathing.
3. Flamingos spend about 15% to 30% of their time during the day preening. This is a large percentage compared to waterfowl, which preen only about 10% of the time. Flamingos preen with their bills. An oil gland near the base of the tail secretes oil that the flamingo distributes throughout its feathers.
4. Flamingos swim readily and bathe in shallow fresh water submerging the whole body.
D. Interaction with other species.
Two or more species of flamingos can coexist in the same area at the same time.
VII Diet and eating habits
A. Food preferences and resources.
1. Blue-green and red algae, diatoms, larval and adult forms of small insects, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fishes make up the main diet of flamingos.
2. A flamingo’s pink or reddish feather, leg, and facial coloration comes from a diet high in alpha and beta carotenoid pigments, including canthaxanthin. The richest sources of carotenoids are found in the algae and various insects that make up the staples of a flamingo’s diet.
3. The shape of a flamingo’s filtering bill determines its diet. A flamingo will either have a shallow or deep-keeled bill.
a. Lesser, James’, and Andean flamingos have deep-keeled bills and feed mainly on algae and diatoms.
b. Greater, Caribbean, and Chilean flamingos have shallow-keeled bills and feed on insects, aquatic invertebrates, and small fishes. Caribbean flamingos eat larval and pupal forms of flies and brine shrimp as their main food.
4. Slight differences in diet and habits prevent competition among flamingos that share close feeding grounds.
B. Food intake.
1. Lesser flamingos eat an estimated 60 g (2.1 oz.) dry weight to fulfill their daily food requirements. Through slow-motion photography, researchers discovered that these birds pump water through their bills 20 times a second to filter their food.
2. A much slower filtration rate was found in the Caribbean flamingos: only 4 or 5 times a second to filter out their daily food requirements of 270 g (9.5 oz.) dry weight.
C. Methods of collecting and eating food.
1. Standing in shallow water, flamingos lower their necks and tilt their heads slightly upside-down, allowing their bills to hang upside-down facing backward in the water
2. Flamingos sweep their heads from side to side close to the surface of the water to collect their food if they have a deep-keeled mandible. If the mandible is shallow-keeled, a flamingo sweeps its head side to side deeper into the mud to collect its food
3. A flamingo filters its food out of the water and mud with a spiny, piston-like tongue that aids in sucking food-filled water past the lamellae inside the curved bill. The fringed lamellae filter out food, and the water is passed back out of the bill.
4. In addition to filtering food into the bill, lamellae also exclude foods that may be too large or small for the flamingo.
5. Standing in water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet to stir up food from the bottom.
D. Water intake.
Flamingos seek out fresh water for drinking.
A. Sexual maturity.
Flamingos reach sexual maturity several years after hatching and usually begin to breed at about six years of age.
B. Breeding seasons.
1. Breeding seems to occur at any time throughout the year, and flamingos may breed twice in a year. However, they may not breed every year.
2. Breeding and nest building may depend on rainfall and its effect on food supply.
3. Lesser flamingos may depend on algal blooms for proper mating in their feeding areas.
1. Groups of flamingos perform ritualized stretching and preening when courting begins.
2. Males group together and often run with bills pointed toward the sky and necks held straight out.
3. Birds interested in one another call to each other frequently and in unison.
D. Pair bonding.
Pair bonding between one male and one female is very strong during the breeding season. However, flamingos have been observed to mate with more than one partner. Some pairs of some species have been observed to stay together for more than one breeding season.
1. A female will most often initiate copulation by walking away from the group. A male follows close behind.
2. The female stops, lowers her head, and spreads her wings. This behavior is an invitation to the male to mount her.
3. Mating most often occurs in the water. The male jumps onto the female’s back from behind, firmly planting his feet on her wing joints.
4. After mating, the male stands on the female’s back, then jumps off over her head. He may then vocalize and shake his wings.
1. Flamingos build nest mounds made of mud, small stones, straw, and feathers. These mounds can be as high as 30 cm (12 in.).
2. Mound building begins up to six weeks before the eggs are laid.
3. Using their bills, both male and female participate in mound building by bringing mud and other objects toward their feet.
4. As they slowly construct the mound, the parents form a shallow well on the top where the egg is laid.
5. Mounds serve as protection against the extreme heat and flooding that occurs at ground level.
6. Mound building continues during incubation, as the flamingos pick up materials close to the nest.
IX Hatching and care of young
A. Egg laying.
1. Flamingos most often lay one large egg. Eggs range in size from about 78 by 49 mm (3 by 1.9 in.) and 115 g (4 oz.), to 90 by 55 mm (3.5 by 2.1 in.) and 140 g (4.9 oz.).
2. The egg is oblong in shape, similar to that of a chicken.
3. The egg is usually chalky white, but may be pale blue immediately after it is laid.
4. Females have been known to lay two eggs, but it is rare for both to hatch.
5. If an egg is lost early in incubation, a second replacement egg may be laid. This process is called double clutching.
1. Incubation begins soon after the egg is laid. The incubation period is between 26 and 31 days.
2. Both the male and female take turns incubating the egg by sitting on top of the nest mound.
a. During incubation, flamingos will stand, stretch their wings, and preen themselves frequently.
b. A parent bird carefully lifts and turns the egg with its bill.
3. Eggs that fall from the nesting mound are not retrieved.
C. Hatching seasons.
Because there are no regular breeding seasons, chicks hatch throughout the year. At SeaWorld, Busch Gardens Tampa, and other zoos, egg laying can be seasonal and may be set by the placing out of mud for nest building.
Newly-hatched chicks have gray or white
down and a straight red bill.
1. Hatching takes between 24 and 36 hours.
2. The chick calls frequently as it breaks out of the shell.
3. The chick breaks through the shell using a growth on its bill called an egg tooth. The egg tooth is not a true tooth and falls off soon after hatching.
4. Adults appear anxious while their chick is hatching. Parent birds stand, look at the egg, and vocalize.
5. The shell becomes thin and brittle after a few hours.
6. Adults sit on the egg to break the brittle shell.
7. The adult stands, looks down, and gently preens and nibbles at the emerging chick.
E. Chick at hatching.
1. Newly-hatched chicks have gray or white down feathers, a straight red bill, and plump, swollen red or pink legs.
2. The leg swelling decreases approximately 48 hours after hatching, and the red bill and legs turn black in seven to ten days.
3. After hatching, a flamingo chick is not very agile. Movement is limited to pushing its wings or lifting its head.
F. Care of young.
1. Parents are able to recognize their own chick by sight and vocalizations. They will feed no other chick.
2. A flamingo chick will leave the nest after four to seven days, when it is strong enough to stand and walk. Parents keep a close, protective watch on their chick as it explores its habitat.
3. Chicks gather in large groups called creches (French for crib). Parents are able to locate their own chicks in the creche at feeding time.
4. Adults feed their chicks a secretion of the upper digestive tract referred to as milk. Milk secretion is caused by the hormone prolactin, which both the male and female flamingo produce.
a. Milk is 8% to 9% protein and 15% fat, similar to mammal milk.
b. Milk is red in color due to the pigment canthaxanthin. Chicks store this pigment in the liver, to be utilized when adult feathers are grown.
G. Chick development.
1. Flamingo chicks are able to swim before they are typically old enough to permanently leave the nest.
2. Young chicks have been seen imitating feeding methods while standing in shallow water.
3. Chicks begin to grow their flight feathers after 11 weeks. At the same time, the bill begins to hook, allowing the chick to feed itself.
4. Chicks lose their juvenile gray or white color, and feathers turn pink gradually over one, two, or even three-years. The last part of the skin to turn pink is often the ankle or hock joint.
1. Flamingo vocalizations range from nasal honking to grunting or growling. Flamingos are generally very noisy birds. Variations exist in the voices of different species of flamingos.
2. Vocalizations play an important role in keeping flocks together as well as in ritualized displays. Specific calls are used in conjunction with certain behaviors.
3. Vocalizations are used in parent-chick recognition.
B. Visual displays.
Flamingos communicate with a broad range of visual displays.
XI Longevity and causes of death
Experts have not yet determined how long flamingos live. At the Philadelphia Zoo, one flamingo lived 44 years.
1. Most flamingo predators are other species of birds.
a. The lesser flamingo’s eggs and chicks are preyed upon by several birds.
(1) The lappet-faced and white-headed vultures feed on eggs, young flamingos, and dead flamingos.
(2) The Egyptian vulture feeds mostly on flamingo eggs. This bird has also been observed dropping and destroying eggs that it does not eat.
(3) The Marabou stork and tawny eagle prey on flamingo eggs and chicks.
(4) The black kite, a scavenger, feeds on flamingo carcasses left behind by other birds and land animals.
b. The greater flamingo’s eggs and chicks are prey for the Marabou stork.
2. Remote breeding grounds make it difficult for terrestrial predators to feed regularly on flamingos. Land predators will, however, enter the flamingo breeding grounds when water levels are low. These predators vary according to the species of flamingo and environment in which the flamingo lives.
a. The lesser flamingo is preyed upon by lions, leopards, cheetahs, and jackals. Pythons have also been known to attack flamingos.
b. The Andean flamingo is preyed upon by the Andean fox and Geoffrey’s cat.
c. In Africa, hyenas will enter a flamingo’s environment when the ground is dry and can hold the animals’ weight. Hyenas cause more panic among the birds than actual mortalities.
d. Records indicate that bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, minks, and dogs have killed flamingos in zoological environments.
e. On Great Inagua Island, in the Bahamas, feral pigs prey on flamingos.
3. About 5% of the colony of flamingos living at Lake Magadi in Africa die of predation. The remaining deaths occur because of dropped or abandoned eggs, and poor health of young and adults.
C. Human interaction.
1. Habitat destruction by humans has had a negative effect on the breeding and feeding grounds of flamingos.
a. Construction of roads and highways make the flamingo’s environment more accessible to people and land predators.
b. Coastal desert irrigation has altered water levels in many flamingo habitats.
c. Mining of boron, lithium, nitrates, potassium, and molybdenum has caused habitat disturbances for the flamingos.
d. Low-flying aircraft bringing tourists, bird enthusiasts, and photographers into flamingo nesting and feeding grounds cause disturbances and affect the birds’ lifestyle.
2. People have used flamingos and their eggs as food.
a. Historically, people have used flamingo eggs as a primary food source and delicacy. Today, in some places, flamingo eggs are removed from nests and sold at markets.
b. In early Roman times, flamingo tongues were carefully prepared, pickled, and served as a delicacy.
c. Andean miners have killed flamingos for their fat, believed to be a cure for tuberculosis.
3. Greater and lesser flamingo chicks in the Magadi colony in Africa were banded in the 1960’s with the hope of finding out more about these birds’ lifestyles and migration patterns. Unfortunately, only a few of the banded birds have been recovered. It is believed that the bands may have dissolved because of the high alkaline content in the water where these birds live.
4. Human activity on Great Inagua, Bahamas, has helped flamingo populations. Salt production has added many acres of suitable habitat, stabilized water levels, and provided additional food sources.
Flamingoes in Bonaire
On Bonaire, flamingoes are legally protected. Never harass, frighten or harm a flamingo.
They are very shy birds, so they will always walk away when approached. If you see a flamingo and you would like to photograph it, do not approach it. The distance will never become smaller since for every step you take the flamingo will take two. The best way to photograph a flamingo is to use a telephoto lens. If you are in luck and you spot a flamingo close to the road, do not get out of the car. Stay in the car and take the picture from there.
The Greater Flamingo:
Bonaire has the largest natural flamingo sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. There are around 7,000 at any one time on Bonaire. A number of them come, regularly, from the Venezuelan mainland some 100 kilometers away in order to breed and tend to their young. They are not difficult to spot. They also like to gather and breed in large groups, so when you spot one you are likely to see many others. Populations are concentrated at Pekelmeer (the exclusive breeding ground of the Southern Caribbean Flamingo) on the salt flats in the South, in the North at Lake Gotomeer and in the Washington Slagbaai National Park. In the South at Lac also smaller groups of flamingoes gather. Flamingoes’ nests are about 2 feet (65cm) across and about 1 foot (32cm) high. The nests taper at the top and hold one egg. When the eggs hatch there are as many as 2500 hungry chicks clamoring for food. There is not enough food on Bonaire alone to feed all the flamingos so a number of adults (numbering a few hundred) leave in the morning and the late afternoon, bound for the mainland. Chicks can fly after about 2 1/2 months. Then they fly with the adults to Venezuela. Chicks remain there for 4 to 5 years until they reach sexual maturity. Then they return to Bonaire to breed. The male and female flamingo mate for life, and they share the duties of building the nest, sitting on the nest to incubate the egg, and feeding the chick.
Bonaire Flamingo Facts:
Height – 5 to 5.5 feet tall, males taller than females
Weight – males 8 pounds; females 6.5 pounds
Wingspan – about 5 feet, males slightly more
Nests – made of mud, 6 to 18 inches high, cone-shaped with a shallow depression on top
Eggs – one per nest, 2.3 by 3.7 inches
Incubation – 28 to 32 days
Age at which a chick’s bill starts to curve – about 14 days (They are born with a straight bill.)
Age at which the bill is fully curved – about 40 days
Age at which the chick can feed itself – 28 to 42 days
Age at first flight – 75 to 77 days
History: The breeding colony in the former Pekelmeer area, South Bonaire, though reported by the famous privateer captain and explorer William Dampier as early as 1681, was first fully described by Ernst Hartert from his visit in 1892. It has survived in spite of traditional raids by the islanders. Gradually Bonaireans have come to respect the Flamingos and to take pride in their unique presence. Before the Antilles International Salt Company (AISCO) started its industrial activities in 1968, the Pekelmeer colony probably housed a population of up to 2500 breeding pairs. By the absence of land-predators, egg-losses in Bonaire are usually remarkably low (I % to 20-25 %, J. Rooth, B. A. de Boer). But as else- where with Flamingos, natural and human-caused disasters have befallen the colony many times and have caused losses of up to 80 % or more. The ultimate effects of human disturbance are known to have lasted for years. The greatest human-caused tragedy known happened in 1944 when at an ‘official show’ from the air the colony was severely disturbed and the birds left the island, not to resume nesting untilaimost seven years later(1950). Recently, severe disturbances were caused by photographing tourists (January 1966) and by low-flying airplanes (April 1973, also 1975 and afterwards) for which Flamingos easily panic, leading to losses and breakages of eggs, trampling of young, and breaking of wings. In 1973 at least 400 eggs were thus lost and 200 young perished in a few moments (J. Rooth). Last of the great natural catastrophes known was in November and December 1966, when three times in succession at least one thousand eggs were destroyed through heavy rain storrns and flooding (Gerharts & Voous, Ardea 56 (1968). 188-192). After discussions dragging for years, an ultimately splendid cooperation of directors and managers of AISCO with a Flamingo Committee of the ‘Foundation for Scientific Research in Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles’ resulted in the creation of a 55 ha (120 acres) Flamingo Reserve situated amidst a 2200 ha (4800 acres) expanse of condenser pans. This Sanctuary, described by Alexander Sprunt IV of the National Audubon Society, U.S.A., as a ‘biological minimum’ and an ‘economical maximum’, comprised the traditional nest sites. Measures were taken that salinity, water level and mud consistency would stay within strict limits. Building of the dams for the Sanctuary, which expatriated the birds completely, started January 1968 and was completed April 1969. Already by the end of 1969 the Flamingos had found and accepted the place and started breeding side by side with the activities of the salt-industry. Between December 1969 and March 1970 2300 pairs nested and 1700-1800 young were reared (J. Rooth). Since then until 1981, there have been 7 rather successful breeding seasons. It has now turned out that if Flamingos have a successful breeding season twice every 6-7 years the recruitment balances the losses over these years.