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Monday, November 26, 2007

Lesser Flamingos in Motion, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, Africa

The Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) is a species in the flamingo family of birds which occurs in Africa (principally in the Great Rift Valley), across to Pakistan and northwest India. It is a very rare vagrant to southern Europe, with several records from Spain. Birds are occasionally reported from further north, but are generally considered to be escapes.

It is the smallest and most numerous flamingo, probably numbering up to two million individual birds. In Africa, where they are most numerous, the Lesser Flamingos breeds principally on the highly caustic Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. Like all flamingos, they lay a single chalky white egg on mounds they build of mud. Most of the plumage is pinkish white.

Chicks join creches soon after hatching, sometimes numbering over a hundred thousand individuals. The creches are marshalled by a few adult birds who lead them by foot to fresh water, a journey that can reach over 20 miles.

The clearest difference between this species and Greater Flamingo, the only other Old World species, is the much more extensive black on the bill. Size is less helpful unless the species are together, since the sexes of each species also differ in height.


This species feeds primarily on Spirulina, a cyanobacteria which grows only in very alkaline lakes. Although blue-green in colour, the bacteria contains the phtotosynthetic pigments that gives the birds their pink colour. Their deep bill is specialised for filtering tiny food items.

Lesser Flamingos are predated on by a variety of species including Marabou Storks, baboons, African Fish Eagles and jackals.

The population in the two key east African lakes, Nakuru and Bogoria, have been adversely affected in recent years by suspected heavy metal poisoning.

Its primary African breeding area in Lake Natron is currently under threat by a proposed soda ash plant by Tata Chemicals.

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