HOW FLAMINGOS WORK…
CREDITS: great photos from Inagua, Melissa Maura; vaguely interesting slo-mo movie, Keith Salvesen
FEAT. FINE-FEATHERED FABULOUSNESS FOR FRIDAY
A flock of adult flamingos on Inagua
A flock with some grey juveniles in the mix
It is an ill-concealed secret that I don’t have an artistic bone in my body – I get acute angst if asked to draw a stickman. As I was looking through photos of large pink flamingo groups, I suddenly realised that I was getting some sort of abstract vision of them. Whoooh! Art-talk. Anyway, I wondered how a legion of flamingos might look in B&W. Add a bit of highlight and… does it work at all? Whether yes or no, this may be the only B&W photo of flamingos since the invention of colour film. Why would you? [Impatient reader: ‘Why did you?]
All great photos courtesy of Melissa Maura (1, 2, 3, 9, 10); Mary Kay Beach (4, 5, 6, 7, 8); Michael Vaughn (11), with many thanks for use permission; Cartoon, Birdorable
My favourite bird book, in a fairly large collection, is my treasured 1947 ‘first printing’ edition of James Bond’s Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies. It is not especially rare, and one can still be had for under $200. The price is rising – about 5 years ago mine cost $80, in excellent condition, with intact dust jacket and protective cover.
This renowned reference book has since had many subsequent incarnations – if you are interested, you can find the whole story including how Ian Fleming chose to name his Double-O hero after an ornithologist HERE. I have several later versions, including 1960 and 1985, where the source material forms the basis. However the latest book of the same name, by Norman Arlott published in 2010, is a completely new offering with a wealth of useful detail. It is good – but it isn’t Bond!
The 1947 Bond is commonly described as the First Edition, and sold as such. But as some will know, it is in truth the second edition of Bond’s famous book, which was originally published in 1936. This was made clear in the copyright info to the 1947 edition; but seems to be rather less prominent in later editions.
A true first edition – very rarely on the market – now comes in well north of $2000, unless in poor condition and without the all-important dust jacket (with rare books, the “DJ” seems to be almost as important as the book itself, especially if in “VGC”).
My edition of Bond’s book has a strange quirk in the title. It’s not exactly a misprint, more of a variation that was probably unintentional. The jacket proclaims it to be a field guide of birds of the West Indies, as does the book’s front cover and frontispiece. However the book’s spine and the page preceding the Introduction state that it is a field guide to birds of the West Indies.
One of the great charms of ‘Bond’, besides the elegance of his writing, is that he includes the Caribbean-wide local names for the birds he features. Thus the mangrove cuckoo is variously known as a rain bird, rain crow, four o’clock bird, and coffin bird. The black-faced grassquit might be a blue-black, a see-see, or a johnny-jump-up. And a flamingo could be a flamenco, a flamant – or a fillymingo.
These reflections on one of the great bird books of the 20th century were prompted by a request I received from someone wanting a good image of a Bahamas flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber (the National Bird) to illustrate what is effectively a research paper about Bahamas natural history. Often with such inquiries – I get quite a few – I can supply images from my own archive. Other times I am able to source images from generous people who give use permission (non-commercial) in return for a credit.
For the flamingos, I only had images of a single vagrant bird that turned up at Gilpin Pond, Abaco a few years ago (Birds of Abaco p25). It looks rather sad and lonesome in the photos; within a matter of weeks it was gone.
None has been reported on Abaco since, though once they were plentiful. Before this lone specimen, there was an attempt to reintroduce the species on the brackish ponds at the fishing lodge ‘Different of Abaco’, Casuarina. The lodge is long-since defunct, as are the flamingos (the PEACOCKS are flourishing however).
Luckily I knew who to turn to for flamingo pictures: Nassau resident Melissa Maura, a person deeply involved with the wildlife of the Bahamas and far beyond. Melissa has spent time with the flamingos of Inagua which has one of the world’s largest breeding colonies – well over 50,000 – of these gorgeous birds in its National Park, overseen by the Bahamas National Trust.
The flamingos of Inagua now thankfully receive the protection that was sadly lacking in c19 Bahamas, when their vast numbers were radically reduced by mankind, leading to extirpation on many islands where they had been plentiful. Hunted for meat and for ornamental feathers; taken for trading, for collections, for zoos: there were no limits. CHARLES CORY noted at the end of c19 that masses of chicks were being killed before they even fledged; and that large numbers were sold to passing ships, on which they were simply left to die.
Melissa has been fortunate enough to be on Inagua during the breeding season when banding takes place. So besides the adult birds in their orange-pink finery, she has been able to photograph the strange ‘mini-volcano’ nests (above) and the sweet, awkward-looking grey chicks. And with her kind permission, Melissa’s superb ‘fillymingo’ photos adorn this article. I believe the real James Bond would have been delighted to admire them; I hope that goes for you too.
All great photos courtesy of Melissa Maura, with many thanks
The national bird of the Bahamas, featured in the nation’s Coat of Arms, was once a familiar sight in the Bahamas, but sadly no more. On Abaco they are no longer seen, apart from occasional vagrant birds that stay for a few weeks and then disappear.
An attempt in the 1990s to reintroduce flamingos on Abaco and to establish a breeding population failed. You can read more about the history of the ‘fillymingo’ on Abaco HERE.
Nowadays, the flamingos breed only on Inagua, and to see these gorgeous birds you will have to go to the INAGUA NATIONAL PARK , where you will find the world’s largest West Indian flamingo colony.
The breeding season is now under way, with large numbers of fluffy gray chicks finding their legs in the lagoons. A team from the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST is working with them at the moment.
The team have with them the distinguished wildlife photographer MELISSA GROO, whose wonderful award-winning work will be known to anyone with a keen interest in wildlife. If you want to see wild birds and wild animals as you may never have seen them portrayed before, do visit Melissa’s superb website by clicking her name link above.
Credits: Melissa Groo, with thanks as ever for use permission [please note that her images are subject to her professional copyright]; BNT, especeially Lynn Gape & Casper Burrows (header image)
This post is a slight, alright huge, cheat. It’s been a Hurricane Sandy-dominated week. I have been posting / updating daily about the storm: the before, during and after for Abaco. Weather predictions. Trackers. Pics. Views from space. Several thousand hits later, and I realise that, as for Irene last year, the world is thirsty for information about cyclones and the communities affected by extreme weather. The power and communication problems faced by Abaco (as elsewhere) at these times increases the global concern. There have been emails asking for information about damage at Green Turtle Cay; if I know how uncle Fred on Elbow Cay is faring; and what of Saucy Sue in Marsh Harbour (the boat, not the person)…
Now that the storm has passed, power and comms are mostly restored, and the clean-up underway on Abaco it’s thankfully back to wildlife. Some interesting birds are called for to spread some cheer.These two species will be familiar but not in the setting shown…
PINK FLAMINGOS (Phoenicopterus)
Cheat 1: These birds were photographed… in captivity. Not quite the same as the real wild thing, I agree. To see wild ones on Inagua during the past breeding season, check out my earlier post with wonderful photographs by Melissa Maura CLICK HERE
WHITE PELICANS (Pelicanus)
The birds below are American White Pelicans, not the Brown Caribbean Pelican familiar in the Bahamas. This isn’t a real cheat, however, since these birds are listed (in some sources at least) as ‘accidentals’ in the Bahamas. These’s always the chance that you might see a stray one. And if anyone has – especially if they have a photo – I’d be most interested to know.
FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS with MELISSA MAURA
Flamingos. The national bird of the Bahamas, featured in the nation’s Coat of Arms. But sadly no longer available to view on Abaco**, despite sporadic attempts to reintroduce them as breeding birds on the island (the last, I believe, about 15 years ago). By the end of the c19, numbers were already small. During his field trip in 1886, naturalist F.H.Herrick noted “The rare flamingo is now reduced to a colony of a few hundred on Abaco, where, as I was informed by an old settler, they numbered thousands several years ago, and similarly the beautiful tropic bird, which is hunted chiefly for food, is being gradually exterminated”.
Ornithologist Charles Cory noted none on his visit to Abaco in 1891 (though he does seem to have been concentrating on smaller birds). In 1905, naturalist Glover M. Allen reported his Abaco findings in THE AUK Magazine, which I have summarised elsewhere: “Of particular interest is… the apparently imminent loss of the flamingo (“fillymingo”) from the Northern Bahamas – a single colony only still surviving on the Abaco Marls by 1905″. There remained a breeding population on the Abaco Marls until the mid-c20, but they then appear simply to have died out there (and more generally in the northern Bahamas).
So to see these gorgeous birds, you will have to go elsewhere. Inagua, to be precise, where in the INAGUA NATIONAL PARK you will find the world’s largest West Indian flamingo colony (around 50,000 of them). Melissa Maura, whose superb photos of ABACO PARROTS I recently featured, visited Inagua during the 2012 breeding season, and took some wonderful photographs that she has kindly allowed me to use. They certainly deserve wider publicity. The collection below (©Melissa) shows adults in flight; adults standing around; the remarkable cup nests; and this year’s chicks… overall, a gallery of 50 shades of pink and grey…
** For the second time this week, nature has outshone mere bloggery. First, I wondered when a manatee might visit Abaco. Answer: right now! Georgie has taken her first long trip from her new home on the Berry Is to visit Abaco – see HERE. And now Sean Giery has responded to a link to this flamingo post on the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST website to say “I just saw my first flamingo last week flying over the beach at Crossing Rocks. It would be great to see them make a comeback on Abaco”. That’s a wonderful prospect.
A brief clip of the sound of Caribbean Flamingos
WEST INDIAN FLAMINGO Phoenicopterus ruber (BNT Article)
The West Indian Flamingo is hardly one to get confused with other birds. Its long legs, long neck and characteristic pink colour make these birds like no other. The West Indian Flamingo has a large, heavy, down curved bill that is most often described by the layperson as “strange”. Adults can reach up to five feet in height.
Even though the Flamingo is a strong flier, it is really quite shy and prefers to live in remote and lonely places. Usually these are rather desert-like spots, dry islands and shorelines where salt is made, and where few other creatures can survive. The island of Great Inagua fits that portfolio perfectly. This is where the majority of West Indian Flamingos are found in The Bahamas. The flock breeds around Lake Windsor (Rosa) which lies within the boundaries of Inagua National Park.
The West Indian Flamingo which once roamed the entire neo-tropical region (tropical Americas) was hunted to a near extinction. Today the West Indian Flamingo is mostly found on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas but has also recolonized islands in the Bahamas such as Mayaguana, Crooked and Acklin islands, Exumas, Long Island and Andros.The West Indian Flamingo has also recolonized other countries such as Aruba; Brazil; Colombia; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Mexico; Netherlands Antilles; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States and Venezuela.
Flamingos are filter feeders and feed on the microscopic plants and animals found in ponds and mud. The larvae of the salt marsh fly is one of the major constituents of the diet of West Indian Flamingos. They also eat brine shrimp, small snails as well as other forms of animal and vegetable life so small that they can scarcely be seen without the aid of a microscope! Although small in size, this food is rich in a protein called beta-carotene which gives Flamingos their characteristic colour. Flamingos stir up their food from shallow water and separate it from the mud and water by pumping and straining it through their bill. They are the only birds which feed with their bill upside down!
Flamingo breeding activity usually begins in early March when huge flocks gather and engage in elaborate and loud courtship displays. This is almost like a very large dance – the massed birds parade together shoulder to shoulder, preforming head flagging (waving the head from side to side), wing salutes (opening the wings to expose the black flight feathers) and the twist preen (twisting the neck over the back and pretending to preen itself whilst stretching out on of its wings. The chorus of courting birds can be heard miles away. This synchronized courtship dance stimulates the birds to breed at the same time, ensuring that the chicks are hatched around the same time.
When the courtship displays are all over the pairs are formed and the building of the nest mounds begins usually around April. Nests are built on the ground out of mud and are baked hard by the sun. The nest which resembles small volcanoes, can be from a few inches high to sometimes over two feet high a shallow crater at the top. This is where the single egg is deposited. Flamingos lay one white egg that is about twice the size of a hen’s egg. Both parents share in incubation which takes exactly 28 days to hatch.
Flamingo chicks look nothing like their parents. They are covered with a thick coat of white down and have pink bills and feet. Both parents feed the chick a secretion from the crop gland in the neck known as “flamingo milk” or “crop milk”. This “milk” is a concentration of fats and proteins (similar to mammals milk) and has a very high amount of beta-carotene making it a bright red colour. When they are about 30 days old the chicks have changed to a dark gray down and start to feed themselves but still eat from their parents if they can. By three months the chicks are fully grown and become a bright pink colour signalling that they are sexually mature to the rest of the colony.
In the 1950’s it was thought that was hunted down to a small population of about 5,000 only on the island of Inagua, Bahamas. With the help of the National Audubon Society in the United States, the creation of the Bahamas National Trust and the appointment of park wardens, the Inagua population grew to approximately 60,000 – a true conservation success story. It also became illegal to harm or capture this bird under the Bahamas Wild Bird (Protection) Act. The IUCN redlist of threatened species lists the West Indian Flamingo as a species of Least Concern due to the fact that the population is currently expanding and increasing its range. However, The Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) lists the West Indian Flamingo in Appendix II which limits the exportation of the species as it can cause the species to become endangered.
Natural threats: Building nests directly on the ground make Flamingos vulnerable to a number of predators. The eggs can be trampled by wild donkeys and boar that roam freely in the same area where Flamingos live and nest.
Hunting: As flamingos only bare one chick a year, it makes them vulnerable to over exploitation. Although Flamingo meat is eaten in other Caribbean countries, it is illegal to harm, capture or kill the Flamingo in The Bahamas.
Historical Threats: The Flamingo was hunted for its big, pink feathers that were used to decorate hats and other nonessential items. Low flying planes of World War II over Andros wreaked havoc on the Flamingo population. This noisy disturbance drove these shy birds away- so much so that their return was doubtful.
The Flamingo is the national bird of The Bahamas.
The West Indian Flamingo is also refered to as the American, Caribbean or Rosey Flamingo.
There are a total of 6 species of flamingos in the world. The other species are Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), Puna (James’s) Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi).
The Greater Flamingo is closest related to the West Indian Flamingo. Despite the Greater Flamingo being a larger size and considerably less brightly coloured, some authorities consider them the same species but different sub-species.