- Status: Vulnerable
- Known as: Andean Flamingo.
- Estimated numbers left in the wild: 38,000 (highly speculative).
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The Andean flamingo has the classic, familiar look of the flamingo, with long legs, a long neck, and a prominent, aquiline beak. This large filter-feeding bird stands 1 meter to 1.4 meters tall, and boasts a wingspan of up to 1.6 meters.
The average weight is 4 kilograms. Festively colored in pink and white, the Andean flamingo’s plumage is set off by yellow legs, a yellow and black beak, and black primary flight feathers on the wings.
Their cry is a loud, goose-like honk which is given with the head thrown back and the tail raised.
These large birds are extremely sociable and gather in flocks of hundreds, and sometimes thousands, at good feeding lakes in South America.
They are filter feeders who seek algae and diatoms in shallow water, usually salty. Their food collection is carried out with the help of special filtration structures within the beak.
The alkaline and salt lakes that these birds prefer (and that grow the correct kind and amount of food for them) are found high in the rugged terrain of the Andes at heights of 2,300 to 4,500 meters above sea level.
The flocks migrate from place to place in a quest for suitable food, often traveling hundreds of kilometers in a single day.
Breeding occurs from December through February, in large colonies – as might be expected from this social bird. Only a single egg is laid by each female, and many young flamingos do not survive until adulthood. The egg is placed on a mound of mud, surrounded by shallow water.
Flamingo chicks are self-sufficient by ten months and ready to breed in three to six years. The Andean flamingo lives for around 45 years in the wild if it does not succumb to hunting or predation.
The Andean flamingo is confined to the mountains of South America – mostly in Chile, Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia. As noted, it lives only above the 2,300 meter mark and below 5,000 meters, requiring alkaline lakes or salt lakes with shallow, diatom-rich water for its survival.
The Andean flamingo’s decline began with a massive collection of eggs from the World War II era through the 1980s. The eggs were used as a food supply by the region’s burgeoning population but greatly impacted the flamingos, sending their population into a sharp decline.
There was an average population of 100,000 prior to the egg collection era, but this human nest robbing cut the flamingo’s numbers to a third of what they once were.
Today, the flamingo population may be stable or even slightly increasing. Sadly, egg collection is not even justified by poverty, since the local people are well-nourished and have an ample supply of llama meat, which is considerably more nutritious than flamingo eggs; they are a delicacy, not a necessity.
A new threat to the Andean flamingo is borax mining, which occurs heavily in its range. Though borax is largely harmless to humans, it destroys much of the birds’ reproductive capacity and causes growing flamingos to develop deformed skeletons.
Bulldozing lake beds destroys food supplies, and mining activity in general disturbs the birds and ruins their habitat.
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Various nature reserves and flamingo reserves have been established to protect crucial feeding and breeding grounds for this species.
Egg collecting has been successfully reduced by official action, though it still occurs. The United Kingdom houses a self-renewing captive population of these birds should reintroduction ever become necessary.
Efforts are underway to create more protected areas and to educate locals on the ecological value of the Andean flamingo.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Andean Flamingo, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.