Flam­boy­ant flock

Lake Na­tron, Tan­za­nia

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Snapshot - PHOTO: Phillip Chang /So­lent

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.

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