Safari aficionados will be tickled pink by the feathered features of the flocks of greater and lesser flamingo congregating around bodies of water all across Africa. Inhabiting some of the harshest environments on the continent, these birds are a pleasing and pleasant surprise for searching eyes.
Preferring the shallow waters of lakes and wetlands where they can munch away on the special critters that give them their unique colour combination, flamingos move in solidarity as a method of protection. With only six flamingo species in the world, this experience should be on the must-see list of every birder.
The intimate dance of the dazzling bright pink birds against the striking blue African sky will most certainly create a memorable safari experience. Even more so as observers can ponder the question that has scientists baffled—why do flamingos sometimes hover on one leg? It has been mentioned that this stance could be an effort to conserve energy as flamingos can lock their legs firmly into place.
Of the six flamingo species, the lesser and greater flamingos are the only two occurring on the African continent. Around 75% of the total population of lesser flamingo call Lake Natron in Tanzania home.
The lesser flamingo is distinguished by a small head, short legs, and only reaching a maximum height of a metre. As the shortest of all flamingo species, they mainly occur in the lake area of the Rift Valley, Botswana, and Namibia.
The greater flamingo has an imposing wingspan of between 1,4 and 1,7 metres which makes it the largest of all the species. They have long necks and legs with a pink bill ending in a black tip.
As numerous as these species are, just as plentiful are the interesting tidbits about the birds:
• The brine shrimp and blue-green algae they consume are responsible for the pink plumage these flamingos are known for.
• Flamingos can exist in the wild for up to 60 years.
• These birds are sometimes hunted by emaciated predators with little access to other food sources.
• Although they breed with a different partner each year, flamingos are regarded as monogamous.
• Flamingo chicks are gathered together in a creche, sometimes numbering more than 100,000 little ones.
There are more than a handful of destinations in Africa where the great spectacle of the gathering of thousands of flamingos can be marvelled at. The highly alkaline Lake Natron in Tanzania, where the flamingo’s main source of nourishment spirulina can exist, must be penciled in on the itinerary. In Kenya, prime spots are at Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoria, and Lake Elmenteita.
Further south, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in Botswana is the most important breeding site for lesser and greater flamingos in the region. In Namibia, these birds tend to congregate around the various salt pans, wetlands, lagoons and shallow lakes, most notably on the coast at Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
The best time to be awed by thousands of pink plumage as far as the eye can see is in summer between November and April and just after the season’s first rains have fallen. Visitors shouldn’t discard the month of May either as there could still be sightings of enormous colourful clouds moving slowly just above the water’s surface.