Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor)

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[edit] Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor) Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1798

The flamingo has been called the most charismatic of all birds. With their bright pink plumages, swan-like neck and long, stick-like legs, they possess a very singular ability to simultaneously be the world’s most peculiar and beautiful birds. Because of their overwhelmingly unique physical distinctions, they also rank among the most recognizable birds. Lesser Flamingo is the smallest amongst all 6 species found in world. Lesser Flamingo belongs to old world flamingo joins with other Species Greater Flamingo, While other 4 species of flamingos are New World Species. All flamingos are found in tropical and subtropical areas. It is the smallest and most numerous flamingo, probably numbering up to 6,000,000 individual birds.

[edit] Taxonomy

The taxonomic status for the flamingos is a rather contentious issue. Traditionally, the long-legged Ciconiiformes have been considered the flamingos' closest relatives and the family was included in the order. Nevertheless, relationships to the Anseriformes (waterfowl) were considered as well (Sibley et al. 1969). To reflect the uncertainty about this matter, flamingos began to be placed in their own order later on. In recent years, molecular and anatomical studies have yielded confusing results.

Class: Aves
Order: Phoenicopteriformes
Family: Phoenicopteridae
Genus: Phoenicopterus
Species:Phoenicopterus minor, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1798

[edit] Distribution

The lesser flamingo is primarily an African species but ranging till South America, India, Mediterranean and Caribbean regions. Populations are found in eastern, southwestern, and western Africa. In addition, a sizable population nests in India in Great and Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat.

[edit] Physical Characteristics

Flamingos are one of the most ancient birds still living in our world today. The most striking physical characteristic of the lesser flamingo is their pink coloration. An adult's plumage can vary from pale pink to a bright red called crimson (vermillion by some sources). An adult lesser flamingo range from light pink to bright red due to the bacteria in the water they inhabit and the pigments obtained from their food supply. A lesser flamingo that is well fed and healthy is vibrantly colored bright pink and is more desirable as a mate. There is no difference in coloration between male and female lesser flamingos. Males tend to be larger in size and possess a greater wingspan, but sex determination in field is unreliable. Thus lesser flamingos have no sexual dimorphism. Chicks are not born with the pink coloration. Instead they possess a grey feathering and gradually obtain their true pink within their first three years of life. Their legs are extraordinary in their long stick-like appearance. To mere passerby’s, they look as though they bend their knees backwards, but anatomically, what most people assume are a lesser flamingo's knees are actually their ankles. Their toes are containing webbing that aids them in stirring up their food as well as in swimming. The clearest difference between this species and Greater Flamingo, the only other Old World species, is the much more extensive black on the bill.

[edit] Habitat

Lesser Flamingos are found in tropical and temperate regions of Africa South America, India, Mediterranean and Caribbean regions. They tend to live in habitats that are not sought after by other animals, normally shallow salt lakes and brackish coastal lagoons. Because lesser flamingos have been uniquely able to adapt to these otherwise inhospitable conditions, intraspecies competition and predation is not as large of a problem for them as it might otherwise be. The climate of their habitats can be highly unpredictable, with seasonal rains and dry periods. Although technically lesser flamingos are considered non-migratory birds, due to climate changes and man's destruction of available habitat, some populations have resorted to leading a nomadic life. Lesser flamingos will stay in one given habitat as long as conditions are favorable, but when resources deplete or threat found, they must leave in search of a new habitat or feeding ground.

[edit] Diet

Lesser flamingos obtain their food from their water source and can range from brine shrimp and brine fly larvae, to blue-green and red algae, to microorganisms; their bright feather coloring is derived from the carotenids they eat in their food. They feed their nestling a liquid substance called 'crop milk', a secretion of the upper digestive tract stimulated by the hormone prolactin. Crop milk is dark red in color and very high in fat and protein and is produced by both male and female birds. Flamingos have a specific filter feeding mechanism in their bills. They will wade through the shallow water, lower their heads and submerge half of their bills into the water. Then, while stirring up the ground with their webbed feet, they open their bills slightly and move their upside down heads slightly back and forth in the water. From this process, the water and all of the organisms living within it, enter through the opening and with the help of the flamingo's large, fleshy tongue, it is propelled through special lamellae. These small hair-like structures act like a sieve to capture the small food particles while the excess water is passed back out of the bill.

[edit] Behavior

Lesser Flamingos are incredibly social birds, living in colonies consisting of thousands. The largest colony on record existing in Africa of over 3 million Lesser Flamingos. The colony minimizes predation through the strategy of "the selfish herd" which theorizes the more options there are for a predator, the less likely he will pick me to eat. Additionally, with thousands of birds all together in one area, there are more eyes to watch for possible predators. Although they flock together in colonies, a lesser flamingo's most stable in the pair bond, consisting of one male and one female. Pair bond tends to be quite strong, as they are often seen together throughout a given day. The mates seem to be closer to each other than any other bird, seen sleeping and feeding side by side. The relationship is cemented by vocalizations exchanged between the pair both in call-and-response and in unison throughout the day. Lesser Flamingo colonies break off into smaller display groups of 15 to 50 birds, in which they perform specific displays that can become highly synchronous. Often, this occurs in places far from a possible breeding site. Both sexes participate in courtship display in a very similar way. A typical display pictures the group standing together, and begins with necks raised in alert positions. Calling and head-flagging commence soon after, and movement increases to wing flapping and more unique behaviors as calling increases in volume.

[edit] Breeding

Lesser Flamingo breeds mainly in the Rift Valley lakes of east Africa in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Three smaller breeding congregations occur in West Africa, in southern Africa, and in India and Pakistan in Asia. When not breeding, it occurs in virtually every sub-Saharan country and from the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan. While In India they breed in Saline marshes Great Rann of kutch and Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. Every lesser flamingo does not nest every year. When they do nest, they typically lay one large, white egg. The nest is built of mud, small stones, and feathers on the ground and is in the shape of a volcano. Mounds can be as high as 30 cm (12 in.). It can take a pair of flamingos up to six weeks to build their nest. Both parents will take turns incubating the egg for 26 to 31 days. Newly hatched chicks have gray or white down feathers, a straight red bill, and plump, swollen red or pink legs. In these large colonies, parents can recognize their own chicks by their vocalizations. Chicks join crèches soon after hatching, sometimes numbering over a hundred thousand individuals. The crèches are marshaled by a few adult birds who lead them by foot to fresh water, a journey that can reach over 20 miles.

[edit] Threat

Due to the lesser flamingo’s world-wide distribution, much of their threats vary from place to place.

[edit] References

  • Feduccia, Alan (1976): Osteological evidence for shorebird affinities of the flamingos. Auk 93(3): 587-601.
  • Sibley, Charles G.; Corbin, Kendall W. & Haavie, Joan H. (1969): The Relationships of the Flamingos as Indicated by the Egg-White Proteins and Hemoglobins. Condor 71(2): 155-179.
  • Jenkin, P. M. (1957). "The filter-feeding and food of flamingos (Phoenicopteri)". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B 240:401-493.
  • The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: James F. Clements, Jared Diamond, John W. Fitzpatrick.
  • Wetlands International Waterbird Population Estimates - Fourth Edition.
  • Ali, S. & Ripley, D. (1964-74 ) Handbook of the Birds of India & Pakistan (Vols. 1-10). Bombay: OUP
  • Grimmet, R Inskipp, T., & Inskipp, C. (1998) Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. UK: A&C Black.
  • Inskipp, T. et al. (1996) An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of the Oriental Region. Sandy, UK: OBC.
  • Kazmierczak, K. & van Perlo, B. (2000) A Field-Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. UK: Pica Press

Arpit Deomurari
Consultant (Environment, GIS and IT)
[email protected]