Lake Natron, Tanzania
Lesser flamingos, Phoeniconaias minor, flock en masse above an African salt lake. The water can reach temperatures of more than 40°C and is alkaline enough to burn human skin but this doesn’t bother the birds, who gather to feed on the nutrient-rich bacteria and shellfish found on its shores.
The smallest of the six species of flamingo, lesser flamingos are highly nomadic and move between suitable breeding and feeding sites according to changes in weather conditions. They are highly gregarious birds and gather in large groups bound together by intricate and elaborate social structures.
“Pairs or trios or small subgroups will feed together and remain in close proximity without squabbling. Rival flamingos, or those that do not get along, will squabble, joust with bills and necks, or push and shove each other,” said Paul Rose, a biologist at the University of Exeter. “Birds that are in breeding condition will gather in large groups to perform courtship displays – wing salutes, head flagging and marching are common in lesser flamingos.”
However, the birds are extremely sensitive to variations in weather and water supply. Droughts and changes in water conditions caused by climate change are already threatening flamingos that traditionally gather to breed around Lake Nakuru in Kenya.