A blush of colour at the Walvis Bay lagoon – more about the Flamingo

Crocodile Farm
May 24, 2013
Kaisosi River Lodge – Kavango
May 25, 2013

Compiled by Jana-Mari Smith

Photographs Carmen Begley©

At the end of March 2013 a Venture Publications colleague, a keen photographer in her spare time, captured thrilling sights of the thousands of flamingoes currently present at the Walvis Bay lagoon.

Flamingo at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

Flamingos at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

In February, during the annual Walvis Bay bird count at the Ramsar site, the highest documented number of Greater Flamingos (46 291) were counted in several years. In addition, Lesser Flamingos numbered 5 799, the highest count in five years. 

We decided this is a good opportunity to explore a few facts on the flamingoes.

A few years ago, renowned and respected conservationist Keith Wearne put together a fact sheet on the Walvis Bay Ramsar Site – which includes the lagoon, saltpans and Pelican point. According to the fact sheet, which Keith produced as part of his work for the Coastal and Environmental Trust of Namibia (CETN) the Walvis Bay Ramsar Site is not only home to tens of thousands of flamingoes at certain times of the year, but it is also a temporary stop-over for thousands of other important wetland species.

Flamingo at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

Flamingos at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

“Around 200 000 terns and 70 000 shorebirds arrive in September/October each year and return in April/May to the Northern hemisphere to breed”.

The Walvis Bay Ramsar site, he said, is considered of great importance both nationally and internationally and the Walvis Bay wetlands are judged by ornithologists to be the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa and one of three most important coastal wetlands in Africa.

Holger Kolberg, the Principal Conservation Scientist Ministry of Environment and Tourism, explained that “it is quite normal for there to be tens thousands of flamingos at Walvis Bay and Sandwich harbour this time of the year”.

Flamingo at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

Flamingos at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

Nevertheless, due to good rains for the past six years, the flocks at the coast were somewhat reduced, as most preferred to stay inland at their breedings sites – either the Etosha National Park or the Sua Pan in Botswana.

Kolberg noted that the “drought has not yet impacted on the birds but if we are entering into a dry cycle then this will obviously impact on the breeding success”. 

This in itself should not cause worry yet, he cautioned, because flamingos are long living birds and “provided the drought doesn’t last too long, then we should be fine”.

Flamingo at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

Flamingos at Walvis Bay by ©Carmen Begley

The following facts all stem from the factsheet compiled by Keith Wearne for the CETN.

Greater Flamingo

  • The greater Flamingo is the most commonly seen Flamingo on the lagoon. It is recognizable by its large size and its pale pink beak with a black tip.
  • They are only able to breed when they are 5 tp 6 years old.
  • The lifespan in the wild is about 35 years, although some flamingos in captivity have been known to live up to 52 years. 
  • The Greater Flamingo feeds mainly on invertebrates, such as worms, small crustaceans and molluscs and will also feed on algae
  • The algae gives the pink colouration to the wing feathers. 
  • The flamingoes feed with their bill upside down. 

Lesser Flamingo

  • The Lesser Flamingo is a smaller, but more colourful bird than the Greater Flamingo.
  • It’s beak is maroon with a black tip.
  • The Lesser Flamingo will nest at Etosha if no rain has fallen in Botswana.
  • It’s lifespan in the wild is about 35 years
  • The Lesser Flamingo begins to breed at the age of five or six years. 
  • The Lesser Flamingo does not compete for food with the Greater Flamingo as it feeds mainly on algae. Its preference is for “blue green” algae which gives it its distinctive bright pink colour. 
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia
Travel News Namibia is a high-quality glossy Namibia travel and lifestyle magazine tasked with promoting Namibia to the world. With riveting stories, first-hand encounters and magnificent photographs showcasing tourism, travel, nature, adventure and conservation, TNN is the ultimate and most comprehensive guide to exploring Namibia. Travel News Namibia is published in five different editions per year. These include four English- language editions and one German. Travel News Namibia is for sale in Namibia and South Africa.

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