Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Greater Flamingo

Some weeks ago a flamingo made news by visiting the Salina salt pans and remaining there for several days. It left during the night three weeks. Last week another flamingo, which could be the same one, landed at the Ghadira Nature Reserve and it seems that it will be spending several days there.

The proper name of the species that visits the Maltese islands is greater flamingo. This distinguishes it from other species of flamingos that are found in other parts of the world. In Maltese the greater flamingo is known as fjamingu although I think that most if not all Maltese refer to it as flamingo.

Sightings of flamingos in the Maltese islands have increased in frequency over the past few years. This is probably because flamingos can now be found in several wetlands around Sicily including at Vendicari, a nature reserve at the south east corner of the island where they will hopefully soon start breeding.

Adult flamingos are pink although their colour varies from one individual to another and even over time as the colour depends on the birds’ diet and health. Young birds are greyish pink becoming pink as they grow older. In Malta we see both pink adults and grey young birds. Whenever a young flamingo lands in Malta many ask me why it is grey and not pink.
Flamingos can be found in a number of countries around the Mediterranean. They breed in large numbers in Spain and France. They also breed in Sardinia. Large numbers winter in wetlands around Tunisia and other North African countries.   

Flamingos are most closely related to waterfowl. Six species exist, four in the Americas and two in the Old World. One of these two is found in Europe

Apart from the pink plumage, flamingos are characterised by their very long legs and neck as well as by their hooked beaks. Both characteristics are adaptations for life in shallow water. The legs allow the flamingos to wade in water without wetting their feathers and the long neck helps them reach for the water without bending their legs.

The beak is constructed in such a way to act as a sieve. It holds the brine shrimp and blue-green algae on which it feeds inside while allowing water, mud and silt to flow out.
As flamingos become better established in Sicily we are bound to see more of them visiting the Maltese islands and who knows they might one day establish themselves in the Maltese islands as well.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 10 July 2014.

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