Lesser Flamingo
Tiffany Randle
The Lesser Flamingo is the most abundant of all flamingos. They have stilt- like legs and stand at about 40 inches tall. Lesser Flamingos are usually pink in color. Author roger Peterson describes them as being, "An extremely slender rose-pink wading bird, with a broken 'Roman nose'; as tall as a Great Blue Heron, but much more slender" (30). The juveniles tend to remain a grayish color until they are mature (which can take up to two years). The flamingo's neck is long as well which allows it to fish for food. They do have good hearing and good eyesight. However, they don't have a well developed sense of taste of sense of smell. They like to eat algae, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and even small fish. The bill of the flamingo plays the key role in catching its food. The bill is held upside down in the water, while the bird sucks in water, minute organisms are filtered out by a comb-like projection of the tongue. Water and food that is too large is filtered out of the bill by way of the slits in the bill.

Lesser Flamingos spend their time eating, preening their feathers, resting, and bathing. They can bathe their entire bodies in shallow fresh water! This flamingo has few predators because of the environment in which it lives. It is said that the flamingos greatest predator is man, because the flamingos are most vulnerable to habitat change and exploitation. Lesser flamingos are the smallest of the four flamingoes, but they retain the characteristic flamingo shape with long legs, a long neck, a bent bill, and a large body. They are not as brightly colored as the Caribbean flamingo, but they still have the light pink feathers with black feathers on their wings. Like all flamingos, the Lesser flamingo has webbed feet, but unlike the Andean and James' flamingos, it has a hind toe called a "hallux".
Flamingos built a nest of mud approximately 12 inches high to serve as protection from flooding. Females lay a single chalk-colored egg that is attended by both parents. The chicks are gray with thick gray legs and a straight bill. Eyesight plays an important role is group activities. Flamingos use various techniques of flashing the black feathers on their wings to communicate with each other. Hearing is also important and heavily relied upon for communication between adults and between chicks and their parents. Flamingos have a very poor sense of taste and no sense of smell.

Even though the Lesser Flamingos are the most abundant flamingos, many flamingos in general have been dying. Veterinary pathologists in Kenya have identified heavy metals as the leading cause of massive deaths of flamingos in two Rift Valley Lakes of Kenya, and warned that the scenic pink birds of Lakes Nakuru and Bogoria remain threatened unless the lakes are cleared of pollutants. "The presence of heavy metals in the birds tissue is alarming," cautioned Dr. Gideon Motelin, a veterinary pathologist at Egerton University who last month conducted a three-day fact finding mission in the two lakes. Motelin is leading Kenyan researcher on flamingos.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) acknowledges that Lake Bogoria is the "worst affected" but gave no data on the number of birds that have died. Journalists have counted hundreds of birds' carcasses littering the shores of both lakes. But the wildlife agency played down pollution as the cause of deaths. "If it's a question of pollution, why is it affecting both Lakes. We could understand if it was only in Nakuru but Bogoria is far away from industries," said Daniel Njaga, a communications officer at KWS. t is known that lesser flamingoes in the Rift valley (East Africa) congregate at certain lakes in flocks exceeding a million individuals, while at other times these same lakes contain only small numbers. The causal factors behind these dramatic changes in distribution or distribution patterns across the range over time have been poorly understood. The distribution of the lesser flamingo population along the lakes of the Rift valley was measured by a series of aerial censuses carried out over a two and a half year period from 1974 to 1976.

Data were collected on the on the standing crop densities of the blue green algae Spirulina and benthic diatoms (the primary food resources of lesser flamingoes in East Africa) and on basic lake morphometry and water chemistry. High flamingo densities at a site correlated with availability of high standing crop densities of Spirulina. Spirulina blooms are not widely available over space or time, and their density fluctuates very rapidly and unpredictably. Benthic diatoms are far more widely available and predictable but are much lower in quality, productivity and carrying capacity. Theoretical energy budget models explain the high flamingo flock densities associated with the presence of high density blooms of Spirulina. The productivity and carrying capacity of benthic diatoms is one to two orders of magnitude less than Spirulina and explains the much lower flock densities and more dispersed distribution pattern at times when the population is dependent on benthic diatoms as its primary food resource.

Cruickshank, Allan. Cruickshank's Photographs of Birds of America. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1977. p. 35.

Peterson, Roger. A Field Guide to the Birds. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company. 1934. p.30.


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