Panther Flamingo Movement
It is such a ‘wow’ vista when you come across it for the first time. The bold rose and white shades of the flamingos dancing against the strong blues of the sea and sky…I’ve spent many hours sitting and watching these birds, but I’m not on my own. Bus loads of tourists and overloaded 4 x 4s are all drawn to the same scene, with cameras at the ready.
Walvis Bay in Namibia is one of the largest remaining bird sanctuaries in the world and the area is of national and international importance to ornithologists. Each year, in summer, there is a population count for both the greater and lesser flamingos. In February 2018, there was recorded a count of 43,001 greater flamingos – the highest yet; the lesser flamingos were considerably lower at 6,036, but this in itself is a huge increase on the figure of 2,617 recorded in January 2010 (The Namibian).
Main differences between the two varieties are:
- The greater flamingo is obviously much taller standing at 1.1-1.5 metres, whereas the lesser flamingo reaches a height of only 80-90cm;
- The greater flamingo has a pink coloured beak with a black tip; the lesser flamingo has a maroon/black coloured beak;
- The greater flamingo has yellow coloured eyes; the lesser flamingo has pink/red coloured eyes; and
- The greater flamingo eats invertebrates such as worms, small crustaceans and molluscs, as well as algae; the lesser flamingo feeds on algae and doesn’t therefore compete with the greater flamingo for food so the two breeds can exist side by side.
From my observations, I have seen the adult greater flamingo spend more time out in the deeper waters, bathing and withstanding the stronger currents, whilst the juveniles will still spend time in the shallows with the lesser flamingos. I have read that they stand on one foot to minimise the loss of body heat to cold water in the shallow water areas – this is not, however, a proven fact.
The birds will mate at the same time within the flock so the eggs hatch at the same time. Breeding in this part of the world takes place in Etosha National Park, further north in Namibia, where the shallow water is warmer and aids in the incubation process. The flamingos will not breed until they are 5-6 years old and the mating pairs usually stay together for life.
The nest is created by the adult using its feet to scrape the sand, in shallow water, into a mound with a flat top. Only one egg is laid per year by the female and incubation takes 27-31 days. The young are nursed at the nest for 65-90 days by both mother and father, who each are able to secrete a milk-like substance for feeding. The chicks are born with a straight beak and remain in the nursery until this develops, curving and strengthening, until it is strong enough to allow the chicks to hunt for their own food. The babies are not born pink – they are grey or white in colour at birth.
The young reach maturity at 3-5 years and within their first couple of years turn pink from the carotine which is present in the algae and minerals they feed on. The flamingos feed with their head upside down in the water, paddling their feet to disturb the sand and filtering the water and sand through their upturned beak.
Flamingos will live for about 35 years in the wild, but have been known to live up to 50 or more years in captivity. The birds fly in large, V-shaped formations at around 60 kilometres per hour, and can travel up to 1,540 kilometers. These long-haul flights will usually take place at night (Wildscreen Arkive)
My photography skills were put to test in an attempt to capture the movement of the birds – no easy task because they are erratic in both speed and direction. However, after three journeys to the country, untold hours and a sore butt, I think I may have just about hit the goal!