Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)

Synonyms: Phoenicopterus minor
  
French: Flamant nain, Petit flamant
Spanish: Flamenco Enano
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPhoenicopteriformes
FamilyPhoenicopteridae
GenusPhoeniconaias (1)
SizeAverage adult male length: 90 cm (2)
Average adult female length: 80 cm (2)
Male weight: 1.5 – 2.2 kg (3)
Female weight: 1.2 – 2.0 kg (3)
Hatchling weight: 73 – 98 g (4)

The lesser flamingo is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is listed on Appendix II of CITES (5) and on Appendix II of the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (6).

Instantly recognisable in flocks of hundreds to tens of thousands, the lesser flamingo has a long neck and long legs, a bent bill and a large body (7). Shorter and darker pink than the greater flamingo, lesser flamingos also differ in the colouration of the beak. Lesser flamingos have a deep red bill, tipped with black, whereas the bill of greater flamingos is light pink, tipped with black (8). The lesser flamingo has faint pink feathers with black primaries and secondaries, and deep crimson legs. The eyes are yellow to orange and are surrounded by a maroon ring. Males are slightly taller than females, and juveniles have brown feathers and a dark grey beak (4).

A nomadic bird, the lesser flamingo is found throughout Africa, as well as Spain, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman and Yemen (5). Over two thirds of the population are found in the alkaline lakes of east Africa (3).

The lesser flamingo breeds in flooded salt pans in southern Africa and highly alkaline lakes in eastern Africa. Breeding sites are extremely limited, with all individuals residing in eastern Africa breeding at one site (Lake Natron in Tanzania), and the birds of southern Africa breeding at only two sites (Sua Pan in Botswana and Etosha Pan in Namibia) (3). Non-breeding birds may also be found on coastal mudflats, salt works and sewage treatment works where salinities are high (4).

The lesser flamingo feeds in the pose characteristic of flamingos, with the long neck bent over and the bill upside down in the water. The tongue is pumped in and out to suck in the salty, alkaline water and mud. Filters in the bill catch microscopic algae floating in the water. Perhaps fortunately, flamingos have a poor sense of taste and no sense of smell (7).

Courtship in this species is visually spectacular, and can take place throughout the year, both on and away from the breeding grounds. Groups of birds, numbering from a few to several hundred, gather to march back and forth, all going in the same direction. They stand tall with their necks stretched upwards and flap their wings out to flash the colours of their feathers (4). During the breeding season, following this impressive display, flamingos pair up and build a mud nest up to 30 centimetres high to protect it from flooding and to keep it cool. A single chalk coloured egg is laid and then incubated by both parents in 24 hour shifts for about 28 days (4) (7). After hatching, the grey chick eats its own shell and is then fed a liquid soup by its parents for the next few months (4). Amongst thousands of flamingo pairs in the huge nesting colony, each chick must learn to recognise the ‘murr-err, murr-err’ call of its parents (4). It is at risk from predation by marabou storks, lappet-faced vultures, white-headed vultures and Egyptian vultures, but even during adulthood, predation by lions, leopards, cheetahs and jackals is common, which drives the aggregative behaviour of this bird (7). At six days old, the chick will join a créche of thousands of other chicks, where it will learn to run at one week, grow feathers at four weeks, and learn to fly at 12 weeks. Before, during, or after the breeding season the adults undergo a temporary moult and become flightless for around three weeks, but this will not occur whilst the chicks require food since adults may fly many kilometers to find food (4) (3).

Flamingo movements take place mostly at night. The birds fly in large, V-shaped formations between water-bodies when food stocks have become depleted. Flocks may also fly between lakes during the day, even when food is abundant (3). Movement may also be triggered by thunderstorms. They fly at around 60 kilometres per hour, and can travel up to 1,540 kilometers, although will normally fly as far as the next lake (4) (3).

This species is highly specialised, making it particularly vulnerable to threats. Land claim, water pollution from pesticides and heavy metals, and disturbance is thought to have reduced numbers (4) (9).

The lesser flamingo has yet to breed in captivity, but with such high numbers of individuals, the main concern of conservationists is to conserve its highly specialised habitat. Currently, the three lesser flamingo breeding sites in eastern Africa and southern Africa have no specific protection (4). The three main feeding sites in east Africa are partially or wholly contained within National Parks or reserves (3).

For further information on the lesser flamingo, see:

Authenticated by Dr Brooks Childress, Chair, IUCN-SSC/Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist Group.
http://www.wwt.org.uk/flamingo

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Zimmerman, D.A., Turner, D.A. and Pearson, D.J. (1999) Birds of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Christopher Helm Ltd, London.
  3. Childress, B. (2005) Pers. comm.
  4. Oiseaux.net (September, 2007)
    http://www.oiseaux.net/oiseaux/phoenicopteriformes/lesser.flamingo.html
  5. CITES (May, 2009)
    http://www.cites.org/
  6. Conservation of Migratory Species (November, 2004)
    http://www.cms.int/
  7. The Big Zoo (November, 2004)
    http://www.thebigzoo.com/Animals/Lesser_Flamingo.asp
  8. Kenyalogy (December, 2004)
    http://www.kenyalogy.com/eng/fauna/flamme.html
  9. Stattersfield, A.J. and Capper, D.R. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK .