Written by: Philip Jackson
There are two types of flamingo in existence: the ballerina-like greater flamingo, and the pinker lesser flamingo. The most common by far that can be seen in Cape Town is the greater flamingo.
Greater flamingos breed exclusively in salt pans further north in Africa such as Sua Pan in Botswana (in case you ever wondered why you do not see any very young birds in Cape Town).
Adult flamingos can be seen at various sites in and around Cape Town including Strandfontein sewage works, Black River around Pinelands, Milnerton lagoon, Kommetjie, Zeekovlei and Rondevlei and are highly nomadic.
Greater versus Lesser Flamingos
If you are lucky enough to sight the lesser flamingo in Cape Town you will be able to compare the two birds ‘in person’ but the greater flamingo is much larger at about 130 – 160 cm tall as opposed to about 90 cm for the lesser flamingo.
The greater flamingo’s plumage is ballerina pink and paler than the more electric cotton candy pink of the lesser flamingo. The greater flamingo also has bright pink wings with a black tips, they also have a black tipped beak. The lesser flamingo is a darker shade of pink and has a dark purple, almost completely black beak. The greater flamingo has yellower eyes whilst the lesser flamingo has red eyes.
The greater flamingos in Cape Town can often be seen with their heads down in the mud or submerged in shallow water treading around in a circular fashion. In doing so they filter algae and organisms from the mud and water through their beaks and it is said that their pinkish colour is a result of the pigments in some of their diet of shrimp and some algae.
Lesser flamingos prefer more alkaline water conditions and are surface feeders (also shrimp and algae) and this fact would help explain why the two species co-exist where they are found together in large numbers.
Some interesting flamingo facts
2) They lay one single chalky white egg.
3) They only breed in huge groups (up to 200,000).
4) Incubation of the egg takes 27-31 days and is carried out by the male and female.
5) Once hatched brooding lasts 3-4 days.
6) At 5 – 10 days the chicks join a huge crèche and are looked after by a few adults.
7) They take their first flight at 75-80 days.
8) They live a long time! – around sixty years in the wild although the oldest recorded bird at Adelaide zoo reached at least 83 years of age (it was there 83 years but was already an adult when it arrived).
9) Although seldom seen in Cape Town the lesser flamingo is the most numerous of the two – about two million strong.
10) Despite this, the lesser flamingo is classified as ‘near threatened’ due to its declining population and low number of breeding sites, some of which are being adversely affected by human activity
11) One of very few breeding grounds in the world for the lesser flamingo is at Kamfers Dam in Kimberly.