SPECIES

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador, Miguel Á. Rendón, Juan A. Amat, and Manuel Rendón-Martos
Version: 2.0 — Published August 12, 2022

Conservation and Management

Species of Least Concern (285). Previously considered Least Concern (2004–2018) and Not Recognized (1998–2000) (285). See Demography and Populations for details on population status and trends.

In Afghanistan, Greater Flamingo was given a culturally motivated level of protection because of the association of the pink color of its plumage to the blood of Imam Husayn (287).

Effects of Human Activity

Habitat Loss and Degradation

Drainage and conversion of wetlands for agricultural development and other purposes has occurred throughout southern Europe, northwestern Africa, and Asia. Mediterranean wetlands have lost half of their surface area through the 1900s (288). In Sardinia and Sicily (Italy), natural and seminatural areas surrounding wetlands used by Greater Flamingo had a mean decline of 17 ha/year (n = 22) and 62 ha/year (n = 16), respectively (289), between 1990–2012. Along the Mediterranean coast, numerous brackish wetlands have been transformed into saltworks, and 45% of Greater Flamingo breeding sites in this region and in western Africa are located in these man-made habitats (244).

Wetlands have been degraded in other ways as well, including through the construction of dams, diversions of surface flows, and groundwater extraction in the basins that feed wetlands, with a consequent decrease in their surface area. At Lake Urmia (Iran), a hypersaline wetland used by Greater Flamingo, the water surface area has shrunk from 6,000 km2 to 900 km2 between 1973 and 2013 as a result of water extraction (290). The only breeding site in Morocco disappeared after the construction of a dam in Iriki in the 1970s (10). In eastern African lakes, soda ash production is causing degradation. For example, in Lake Abijata (Ethiopia), water extraction for soda ash production has contributed to the 60% decrease in lake surface area, increased salinity and alkalinity, and change in the composition of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities (291).

The increase in temperature related to climate change may also affect the future distribution of this species. Reduced rainfall predicted for southern Africa could reduce breeding opportunities (292). Sea level rise in the Mediterranean may also result in flooding of breeding sites (244).

Effects of Invasive Species

The spread of water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes) at Basai wetland and at the Najafgarh Jheel Bird Sanctuary (India) has reduced available habitat for Greater Flamingo (293).

Hunting and Trapping

Greater Flamingo has been hunted by humans for many thousands of years. In a sample of 1,137 birds from a site in Çatalhöyük (Türkiye) from the Neolithic Period (7100–6000 calBC), Greater Flamingo bones were noted (294). In the 1800s and first half of the 1900s, local people from Spain and France gathered eggs from colonies (295, 296, 16).

More recently, flamingos are still hunted and trapped across its distribution. At Al-Jabboul Lake (Syria), birds were shot by hunters, and adults and chicks were trapped with staked-noose lines to be sold as pets (297). In Ebro Delta Natural Park (Spain), 16 individuals were illegally killed by shooting (298). In Ranobe (Madagascar), a multiple-use protected area, most species of vertebrates are consumed by humans, including Greater Flamingo (299). At Garaet Tarf (Algeria), poachers ran down flightless molting birds and captured them when exhausted (75). Large numbers of flamingos were also exported from Kenya under license, probably to zoos, in the early 1970s (300).

Pesticides and Other Contaminants/Toxics

Pesticides

Organochlorine residues were found in 53 eggs from the marshes of the Guadalquivir (Spain); mean levels in eggs of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were 701 ng/g, while mean levels of DDE were 1,503 ng/g (301). Organochlorine residues were found in the livers of 65 Greater Flamingo from three wetlands of eastern Spain (El Hondo, the Santa Pola saltworks, and the Ebro delta), with higher levels of DDE (758 ng/g ± 1,561 SE, range 11.5–10,268.0) than other compounds (302).

Trace Elements

There is a high prevalence of lead pellet exposure in some Mediterranean wetlands. A study in several Spanish wetlands recorded a high abundance of lead shot pellets in 0–20 cm deep sediment. In rice fields near the Albufera de Valencia, the density of lead shot was 1,876,000 lead shot pellets/ha, while in Tablas de Daimiel National Park the density of lead shot was 994,000 shot/ha (303). Lead poisoning by ingestion of lead shot has been documented in Spain and in other Mediterranean countries. In three wetlands in eastern Spain (El Hondo, the Santa Pola saltworks, and the Ebro delta) 52 of 65 individuals had lead poisoning, which affected relative proportions of different fatty acids. Several fatalities as a consequence of lead poisoning have also been reported in southern Europe, such as Doñana (38) and Alicante Province (Spain) (298), as well as in several Italian wetlands (304), in the region of Marseille (France) (305), and in Cyprus (306).

Higher concentrations of Cadmium (Cd), Copper (Cu), Lead (Pb), and Selenium (Se) were found in the feathers of adults compared to chicks in the Camargue (France), though concentrations of Zinc (Zn) were higher in chicks than in adults (307). Bioaccumulation of some trace elements, like Cu, Se, Pb, Arsenic (As), and Zn, may alter the gut microbiome in chicks (308).

Collisions with Stationary/Moving Structures or Objects

In Gujarat State, India, between 2002–2005, 39 Greater Flamingo were killed by collision with power lines, while three were killed after collisions with telephone lines (309). In the Khadir region of Kachchh (Gujarat, India), ca. 400 were killed in 2011 by collision with power lines, while four were killed in 2016 in Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra, India (310). In Albacete Province (Spain), between 2011 and 2013, 35 collisions with power lines were recorded, of which 20 resulted in fatalities and 15 resulted in broken wings (311). A Greater Flamingo was killed by a wind turbine in South Africa (out of 848 individuals) (312). One Greater Flamingo (out of 89 birds of several species) was found dead beside a bridge of a railway crossing the Sado Estuary, Portugal (313).

Human/Research Impacts

Human disturbance is a cause of incubation and chick abandonment, leading to mass mortality in colonies. In the Camargue (France), colony abandonment was observed in 1981 when two persons entered the breeding site, and again in 1987 when a balloon fell in the colony (10). Disturbance by low-flying aircraft has been reported in eastern African lakes (195) and caused the abandonment of the nesting colony in the Ebro delta (Spain) in 1992 (314). This type of disturbance was also observed in the Camargue between the 1940s and 1970s (10).

The conversion of wetlands into rice fields in the 1950s in the Camargue has provoked conflict with farmers since 1978, when Greater Flamingo started using the rice fields as foraging areas, causing crop damage (315). This conflict has extended to rice crops in the Ebro Delta (Spain) since 1993 (120). However, the effects of the conflict with rice farmers on flamingos are not known.

For undisturbed Greater Flamingo wintering at the saltworks in Eilat (Israel), no relationship between individual distance (26.7 m ± 6.7 SE) and flock size (38.3 ± 15.3 SE) was observed. When cars stopped and the occupants got out of the vehicles, however, the individual distance was reduced (5.1 m ± 3.2 SE), and small flocks had shorter individual distances (37.9 m ± 3.8 SE) than large flocks (39.6 m ± 9.0 SE). When disturbed by all-terrain vehicles, the interindividual distance decreased to 2.27 m ± 1.1 SE, with birds flocking together in the middle of the pan. Average individual distance within flocks could be an indicator of the perception of threats (316). At Najafgarh Jheel Bird Sanctuary (India), fishing activities disturbed Greater Flamingo (293).

Management

Conservation Measures and Habitat Management

Most Greater Flamingo nesting and foraging wetlands are now protected, although in some regions of its range it faces a variety of threats (10). Surveillance of nesting colonies in protected areas by guards is important to prevent hunting, egg theft, capture of nestlings, and disturbance (10).

In terms of predator control, in the Camargue (France), when an excessive number of Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) threatened the survival of the Greater Flamingo colony, a gull-culling program was initiated in the early 1960s and continued until the early 1980s, but later abandoned (10).

Various measures have been proposed and adopted to address environmental threats to flamingos. In the Camargue and Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain), actions were take to prevent the erosion of the nesting islets, while also attracting nesting pairs to nests constructed by humans that were similar to natural ones (317). The desiccation of breeding wetlands before the chicks are able to fly may result in mass mortality events. In an attempt to counteract this natural phenomenon, chicks were captured in wetlands in eastern and southern Africa and transferred to other wetlands to increase their chances of survival (10). A study of chick translocation was carried out in Namibia; in April 1994, 144 chicks that ranged in age from 2 weeks to 2 months were taken from Etosha Pan, Namibia, following the desiccation of the wetland. The chicks were hand-reared until they were released 7 weeks later at Walvis Bay (Namibia), the main wintering site of the breeding population at Etosha Pan (318). In the Guadalquivir marshes (Spain), chicks were led to the nearest flooded site by guards on horseback after cutting a path through the vegetation (202). In the Fuente de Piedra Lake, water was pumped into the dry lake to flood 5–6 ha around the breeding site, where the chicks remained until fledging (317).

A study in the Camargue showed that flamingos avoided using rice fields with hedges (133). Hedgerow restoration in rice fields has been recommended to reduce the presence of foraging Greater Flamingo and thus reduce conflicts with farmers (120). In the Ebro Delta Natural Park (Spain), nocturnal visits by flamingos to rice fields were discouraged using lights and flares (247).

Effectiveness of Measures

There is little information on the effect of chick relocations on population demography. Survival rates of chicks translocated to Walvis Bay Lagoon (Namibia) appeared to be low; of 77 banded chicks released, only 5 individuals were seen again 930–960 d later at a distance of 5–700 km from the release point (318).

In the Camargue, 5-10% of the 700 decoy nests erected in 1973-1974 were used as nests in 1974 (317).

In the Guadalquivir marshes (Spain), 1,500 chicks fledged in 1977, 2,500 in 1978, and 3,500-3,800 chicks in 1984. Every year, the chicks had been moved from the colony site to the nearest flooded site by people on horseback, sometimes through corridors previously made across emergent vegetation (202). Between 1984 and 2021, flamingos nested in the Fuente de Piedra Lake in 29 years; in 22 of these years the lake dried up during the breeding season and water was pumped in to protect the chicks from terrestrial predators and high ambient temperatures; this management action allowed 146,267 birds to fledge, representing 64.4% of all chicks hatched in the period 1984–2021 (M.R-M, unpublished data). As there was no single year in which such actions were not undertaken when the lake dried up, it is not possible to estimate how effective these measures were for fledging success.

In Cyprus, the removal of sand with lead shot from a salt-lake significantly reduced the numbers of deaths due to lead poisoning (306).

Recommended Citation

Salvador, A., M. Á. Rendón, J. A. Amat, and M. Rendón-Martos (2022). Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grefla3.02