The Greater Flamingos in Namibia

The coastal city of Walvis Bay (Walvisbaai), Namibia lies some 30 kilometres south of Swakopmund, accessed (if you happen to approach from the north) on a stunning ocean road seamed by the mighty Namib Desert dunes. The harbour city is situated at a wide lagoon with innumerable seabirds, pelicans and flamingos. Regarding Namibian flamingos which also are generally known as “Greater Flamingos” are widely distributed from southern Europe to southern Asia and throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with African core populations in Mauritania and Senegal, East Africa and southern Africa. The lagoon in Walvis Bay is the scenic feature of Walvis Bay as such. So with making it one of the most important wetlands of southern Africa and is the hibernation area for thousands of migratory birds, like the greater flamingos. A large proportion of the southern African greater flamingo population of this sporadically nomadic species may congregate in Namibia. Rumour has it that in March 1999, a whopping 51,000 birds were recorded in Namibia out of an estimated total southern African population of 59,300. The greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is the most widespread and largest flamingo species currently known of (first photo by Pixar).

+ Some general Infos on the Greater Flamingo:

Population estimate: Ranging between 41,000 and 51,000 adults

Southern Africa range: Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe

Habitat: Flooded salt pans, farm dams and coastal lagoons

Communication: These migrating birds communicate vocally with a type of honking that is very similar to the sounds which geese produce. Therefore, Flamingos are not big fans of noisy environments and tend to avoid them!

The surface area of occupancy: approx. 61,300 square kilometres

Food: The Greater Flamingo feeds by wading in shallow water with the bill upside down, filtering small crustaceans and other invertebrates from the water column and mud. It mainly takes saline lake crustaceans such as fairy shrimps, brine flies and marine benthic organisms such as molluscs and diatoms.

The colour(?): The pink/magenta colouring spread throughout their bodies hence comes from the crustaceans that they consume. Younger Flamingos only show signs of pigmentation after three years of age.

Threats: Low breeding frequency and success, collisions with power lines, water abstraction, reduced rainfall, hydrogen-sulphide eruptions, pesticides, encroachment of habitat, disturbance by smaller aircraft’s

Conservation status: Vulnerable (Namibia), Near Threatened (South Africa)

Lifespan: According to Zoo Basel, the general lifespan reaches over 60 years. According to Wikipedia “The oldest known greater flamingo was a bird at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia that died aged at least 83 years. The bird’s exact age is not known; he was already a mature adult when he arrived in Adelaide in 1933. He was euthanized in January 2014 due to complications of old age.”

The male Great Flamingos can be up to 154 centimetres tall which is more than some humans. They only weigh about 3,7 kilograms which for this tall bird is extremely light. Their feathers range in colour from pink – magenta to bright red. They also have areas of white blending throughout them. While in flight you will be able to see areas of black patches underneath the wings as well.

Image above shows Walvis Bay Flamingos in flight – photo by Launchphotography

The Greater Flamingo prefers less saline habitat than the Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), including recently flooded salt pans, sewage works, river mouths, inland dams and coastal bay. Generally, their breeding activity occurs on raised islands on the flooded salt pan at Etosha in large colonies which can be found far out on the Etosha salt pan. Worth noting is that breeding colonies may comprise several thousands of nests, often in mixed colonies with the Lesser Flamingo species. At Namibia’s Etosha Pan, laying of eggs via the Greater Flamingo typically starts when annual rains exceed 400 mm, generally in February and March, but as early as November and as late as May. However, in contrast, the Lesser Flamingo lays mainly in May and into June. The recorded breeding frequency and success at Etosha Pan are indeed very low. Between 1956 and 1995, Greater and Lesser Flamingos attempted to breed there on 17 occasions and recorded are only five successful outcomes. The Greater Flamingo is classified as Vulnerable in Namibia and as “Near Threatened” status within South Africa. However, the Greater Flamingo is not considered globally threatened according to the IUCN.

Image above shows the Greater Flamingo migrating route – photo by ResearchGate

The ongoing monitoring of breeding events and their success inside Namibia’s Etosha Pan currently is being continued by Etosha Ecological Institute staff. It is unclear if the cohorts of young birds are being marked with engraved rings when breeding is successful. It is vital to study and allow an assessment of the survival and movement of these birds.

+ Best season for birdwatching in Walvis Bay:

Migration starts at October/November and ends in April. Also, see the Map below for the lagoon directions in Walvis Bay.

• Click here for our past Blog Post regarding the diversity of Namibia’s Wildlife Conservation.