Saturday, 6 November 2010

Flamingos in the news

Who would have thought that research into the behaviour of Greater Flamingos would be so widely reported in the news media? This week the BBC, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph were amongst those who joined Birdguides in featuring our favourite pink birds. How clever of Juan Amat and his co-authors to include a reference to make-up in the title of their paper on the use of uropygial secretions; it certainly grabbed the attention of the headline writers! You can read their full text on-line in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, a Springer journal.

Greater Flamingos occur here throughout the year. There was a failed breeding attempt this year at Lagoa dos Salgados and there have been reports of similar attempts in the past at Castro Marim, but it is as a wintering area that the Algarve is of prime importance.

Not surprisingly, the birds we see here are mostly from the major breeding colonies in France and Spain. Most stay with us through the winter months but some carry on south and we have seen birds in Djoudj National Park in Senegal and in The Gambia that probably came from the Camargue or perhaps from Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, near Malaga.

It used to be thought that Greater Flamingos paired for life – the Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic says that – but the reality seems to be that many of them choose a new partner each year. Not only that but they may also choose to nest in a different colony from one year to the next.

This week we watched a group of 80 birds here in Tavira that included five colour-ringed individuals, birds that had started life in France, Spain and Italy. Seeing these birds courting and displaying, it wasn’t difficult to see how the interchange between breeding colonies comes about and presumably this must be good for genetic diversity and the health of the population. Amongst the displays, we saw some ‘neck-stretching’ and ‘head-flagging’ and even some ‘wing-saluting’ but it’s probably a little early in the season for the birds to be putting on their make-up. Rest assured, though, that we will be looking out for it!

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