Identification. Greater flamingo
larger and taller at 105-155 sm (lesser flamingo is about two-third of great flamingo at
90-105 sm), body of greater
whiter with pink and red patches (lesser has pinker body evenly coloured), greater
flamingo's beak/bill is light pink with black tip (lesser flamingo has evenly dark red
bill with hooked shape which looks black from a distance), legs of greater flamingo are
pink (lesser's - red), immatures: both species: plumage grey and white for approximately 2
years, pink colour from approximately 3 years onwards, food/feeding: greater is carnivore
and bottomfeeder (molluscs, crustaceans, insects, larvae), lesser is herbivore and top
feeder (blue-green algae, vegetable matter).
The two species can feed side by side as there is no competition for food. Flamongoes feed on tiny organisms either animal or vegetable matter which they filter out of mud or water. The tongue acts as a piston. It sucks water into the beak and then forces it out so that food items are trapped against filters along the edge of the beak.
The pink and red colour derives from bacteria in the salt water - the shrimps and algae on which they feed contain carotene which produces the various shades of pink.
Breeding. Sexual maturity of flamingoes is from 4-5 years of age. Incubation period is 30 days (Etosha park and Makgadikgadi in Botswana). Young birds start to fly when they are 85 days old. Lifespan is 25-30 years.
Numbers and conservation. The population is about 30 000 of each species. The wetland in Walvis Bay is a vital link in a global network of nature reserves. Should Walvis Bay lagoon be lost to these birds there are few other locations where they can move to. The result would be substantial mortality of displaced birds. Walvis Bay wetland is a vital refuge for flamingoes during dry time of the year. They breed inland on pans created by summer rains. In the dry winter season the pans dry up and the birds fly to coastal wetland Walvis Bay is the single most important location.
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