Let me just start by admitting that I have, rather sadly, never paid flamingos much attention.
I knew about them, of course (I mean, who doesn’t?!): large birds, pink plumage, crooked beaks, like wading around algae-filled lakes, and sometimes the ocean. Pretty ridiculous all in all. Just not ridiculous enough to drag my attention away from elephants and owls. *Sigh*
Maybe it was the trashy trailer park connection that put me off. (But probably not). Or maybe, like with particularly flashy people, I just didn’t really know how to handle their over-the-top gregariousness, so avoided them instead.
Whatever the case may be regarding my former indifference, the fact is I’ve suddenly developed a solid fascination with these jewels of the air and water. And I think I have Karen Blixen to thank (or maybe blame), as it was one of her signature wish-I-could-write-like-that kind of descriptions in Out of Africa that made me sit up and see flamingos for the wildly fantastic creations they are.
The flamingos are the most delicately coloured of all the African birds, pink and red like a flying twig of an oleander bush. They have incredibly long legs and bizarre and recherche curves of their necks and bodies, as if from some exquisite traditional prudery they were making all attitudes and movements in life as difficult as possible…
The noble wader of the Nile, the sister of the lotus, which floats over the landscape like a stray cloud of sunset…
(Don’t you wish you could describe something like that?)
So, let’s get right to it… Flamingos. A few fun facts:
- There are six flamingo species: the Greater (found in parts of Africa, southern Europe and southern Asia), the Lesser (found in Africa e.g. the Rift Valley and NW India), the Chilean (temperate South America), James’ flamingo (High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina), Andean flamingo (same as James) and American flamingo (Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and Galapagos)
- Flamingos are known to be monogamous (how romantic, right?). They form strong pair bonds of one male and one female, although in larger colonies flamingos sometimes change mates, presumably because there are more mates to choose from (not so romantic, but totally understandable).
- The pink, orange or red color of a flamingo’s feathers is caused by carotenoid pigments in their food, and a flamingo’s diet includes shrimp, plankton, algae and crustaceans.
- They don’t only appear to be hugely flamboyant. They actually are that way as well!! They’re gregarious and highly sociable, dwelling in flocks of up to a million or more.
- Sometimes they like to form MASSIVE communal self portraits in Mexican lakes.
- In the wild their life expectancy is 20 – 30 years, while they have been known to turn 50 in captivity. That’s really, really old for a bird!
- Finally, flamingos are fun.