With over 10,000 species of birds in this world, there are many birds to write about. I’m doing a lot of research on Africa right now, so here are photos and fun facts about the exquisite flamingo.
It’s one of my favorite birds. There are many aspects of the flamingo that are interesting and memorable, but their sound and group behavior are what thrill me the most.
The flamingo can be found all across the world. Here in the United States they are in Florida, Texas and other southern coastal areas. They also live in Central and South America, the Caribbean and Mediterranean; I’ve seen them in the Galapagos Islands, there are even some in parts of Europe. In much bigger flocks they can be seen in India, parts of Asia…and then there’s Africa.
I like seeing them in Africa because, well, I love Africa. The alkaline lakes in which they feed produce an abundance of carotenoid pigments that give them an especially rich pink color. This photo was taken in the Rift Valley of East Africa. They flock here in the thousands. I have watched flamingos for hours, and after awhile one might think they’re a bit freaky-looking with the crooked bill, legs longer than its body, and that outrageous bubble-gum color. But they’re not freaky, they’re exotic and lovely.
The bill is a work of art. First, it is designed to filter mud and debris from its food with the help of comb-like structures and a rough tongue inside the bill. Second, because the bird wades in shallow waters and has exceptionally long legs, the head is always upside down; so the bill operates in an inverted manner. It is called an arcuate bill because it is bent, and it’s bent so it can scrape the bottom of the lake.
The huge flocks are also fascinating. Even when I knew we were on our way to see the flamingoes, I wasn’t sure that’s what I was seeing. We were bumping down the dirt road from miles away, descending into the valley, and there in the distorted-heat-wave distance was a blanket of pink. I thought maybe it was wildflowers. Then as we approached, I saw the lake completely covered with flamingoes. They were all standing wing-to-wing, so close together.
Being a very skittish bird, it is difficult to know how close you can get before they’ll disperse, but the guide helps with that. When you get out of the vehicle, quietly, quietly, you hear them. It’s not the honking flamingo sound you hear on You Tube videos filmed in a zoo. It’s an electric sound, a low-pitched buzzing amplified by a thousand.
As you watch them longer, feeling that electric buzzing vibrating through you, you notice few are actually standing still. Some are feeding, neck bent down, wading, feeding like methodical lawn mowing. Some are grooming. Others are five, six, sometimes 10 in a line, all moving in unison. And this is the part that I find so unusual: they move in a synchronized line like chorus dancers. They hold their long neck erect and glide around on straight long legs, first one direction, then another; all in perfect harmony. This chorus line moves as other flamingo chorus lines move, each line hurrying in a different direction but no one losing a step or bumping into another. This is courtship.
What a grand sight: a lake so big you can barely see the other side, animated by flashy pink dancing flamingoes. It truly is a flamingo fandango.