The Lesser Flamingo
, Phoeniconaias minor
is the smallest of the world's five flamingo species. It breeds primarily in the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa with about 2.3 million birds estimated, but also in small populations in Namibia/Botswana, Mauritania/Senegal, Ethiopia. When not breeding, it occurs in virtually every sub-Saharan country and from the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan.
In the summer season of 2007/8 almost two thousand pairs of Flamingo bred on the Kafers Dam island, constructed in September 2006, producing an estimated 9,000 chicks. The breeding success is expected to reverse the recent negative population trend in the southern population. This breeding colony became the first in South Africa, the fourth in Africa and one of six in the world.
The new breeding site is considered to be of special importance as the most important Lake Natron is threatened by proposed soda ash mining, while Etosha Pan is only productive once every 9 years. The island also offers unusual insight into Flamingo biology since typical breeding sites are much less accessible. Webcams are to be installed when the flamingos vacate the island, to facilitate observations and to increase public awareness.
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Juvenile Large view
Lesser flamingos, are unusual among flamingos in having a hallux, a toe that projects from the back of the foot. Its long neck has 19 neck vertebrae.
The bill of the flamingo plays the key role in catching its food. The bill is held upside down in the water, while the bird sucks in water, minute organisms are filtered out by a comb-like projection of the tongue. Water and food that is too large is filtered out of the bill by way of the slits in the bill. They feed mostly in the upper layers of the water, and can do so even while swimming. They have good hearing and good eyesight. However, they don't have a well developed sense of taste of sense of smell.
The Lesser Flamingo is the most abundant of all flamingos, gregarious birds forming large flocks. Nevertheless, they form monogamous pairs. Males and females are similar, although males may be slightly larger. Lesser flamingos can live for as long as 50 years in captivity. Some wild populations have been suffering massive die-offs, possibly because of environmental toxins.
Sexual maturity is reached at approximately 6 years. Flamingos build a nest of mud approximately 30 cm high to serve as protection from flooding. Females lay a single chalk-coloured egg that is attended by both parents, on average for a 28-day incubation period. The chicks are white and juveniles are gray. The parents produce a kind of milk in their crop which they feed to the young flamingos. They fledge in 70 – 75 days. The colour of the feathers changes over the next few years. The juveniles tend to remain a greyish colour until they are mature (which can take up to two years). Eyesight plays an important role in group activities. Flamingos use various techniques of flashing the black feathers on their wings to communicate with each other. Hearing is also important and heavily relied upon for communication between adults and between chicks and their parents.
The pink color of adult feathers comes from pigments extracted from their food. Algae contain pigments similar to those that make trees turn color in the fall. Some people believe that a flamingo's success in breeding relies on its bright colour.
The eggs and chicks of the Lesser flamingo are preyed upon by the marabou stork, lappet-faced vulture, white-headed vulture and Egyptian vulture. Lions, leopards, cheetahs and jackals prey upon adults and even pythons have also been known to take flamingos.
The name “flamingo” originally comes from the Portuguese language and means "red goose".
Flamingos are an ancient group of birds. Their fossil records dates back to the Miocene epoch, which is about 10 million years ago.