The Lesser flamingo is the smallest of all flamingos, but has the largest number of population. They have a bill of deep red, tipped with black. The wings are narrow and the primary and secondary flight feathers are black, and their wing coverts are red. They posses the "hallux" or hind toe that some other flamingos do not have. Their eyes are orange to yellow, surrounded by a ring of maroon. Males are a little taller than females. The feathers of juvenile are brown and they have a dark gray beak.
Lesser flamingos inhabit coastal and inland wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa and India. They breed on large alkaline and saline lakes, salt pans and coastal lagoon.
Habits and lifestyle
Lesser flamingos do not migrate and they live in big colonies with sometimes more than 1 million birds. They are mostly active at night. They fly between water bodies in large, V-shaped formations when food sources have become depleted. Even when food is plentiful, flocks may sometimes fly between water sources during the day. Lesser flamingos have no sense of smell and not much sense of taste. Eyesight is important for group activities. They flash their wing's back feathers to communicate. Hearing also plays an important role for communication both between adults and for chicks and parents. The adults are able to identify their offspring through its sounds. These birds often form subgroups within larger groups.
colony, stand, flamboyance, flurry
Diet and nutrition
Lesser flamingos mostly eat blue green algae but occasionally they can eat crustaceans and small insects.
Lesser flamingos are serially monogamous and the pair tends to remain together while they are able to produce young. They breed in colonies that number thousands of birds. Mating season usually starting in the last quarter, from October to December. Both parents build a nest of mud as high as 30 cm to keep it cool and protect it from flooding. The female lays one egg, and incubation lasts about 28 days, carried out in 24-hour shifts by both parents. After the chick hatches it is fed "crop milk", a substance which comes from the adult bird's upper digestive tract. Chicks must learn to recognize the call of their parents. At 6 days old, chicks join a crèche with thousands of other chicks. It learns to run at the age of one week, grows feathers at four weeks olds, and learns to fly when 12 weeks old.
People collect flamingo eggs and expand into their habitat by farming, urban development and road construction. Major threats for lesser flamingo are land-claim, human disturbance, and water pollution from heavy metals and pesticides. Lesser flamingos breed on very low number of breeding sites so any industrial or agriculture activity even somewhere near may dramatically impact the whole population.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total estimate for the Lesser flamingo population is about 2.2-3.3 million birds, including estimates for specific regions: 15,000-25,000 individuals in West Africa; 1,500,000-2,500,000 flamingos in East Africa; 55,000-65,000 flamingos in South Africa and Madagascar, and 650,000 flamingos in south Asia. Lesser flamingos’ numbers are decreasing today and they are classified as near threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.
Fun facts for kids
- Lesser flamingos are very noisy; their call during flight is a high-pitched sound, kwirrik. When walking or feeding they make a low murmuring murrrh-murrrh-errh.
- Lesser flamingos are excellent swimmers.
- Flamingos like to flock together. In East Africa, over one million lesser flamingos sometimes gather together, into the largest known flock among birds today.
- Standing on one leg is actually the most comfortable resting position for a flamingo.
- Ancient Egyptians used a flamingo's silhouette as a hieroglyphic for "red", and it also represented for them the reincarnation of the Sun God Ra.
- Flamingos come from an ancient bird group. Their fossil record goes back about 10 million years, to the Miocene epoch.
- A flamingo usually feeds with its beak upside-down. It tips its head into the water to filter feed, using a special adaptation inside the top half of its bill to scoop up the microorganisms that it eats. However, the lesser flamingo hardly every submerges its head but instead feeds at the surface.