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

Demography and Populations

Introduction

Greater Flamingo experiences great variation in hatching success and breeding success from year to year. It is a very long-lived species that reaches at least 40 years of age. Adult survival is high, but females less than 7 years old may experience greater mortality if they attempt breeding.

Measures of Breeding Activity

Age at First Breeding

The age of sexual maturity is three years (10). The proportion of first-time breeders that are three years old, however, is very low, and most are 4–8 y old when they first breed. In a sample of Greater Flamingo banded as chicks, 1,339 males and 1,349 females were observed breeding in the Camargue for the first time between 1982–2000; only seven females and one male were three years old (10). Differences between sexes were observed, with a tendency for most of the females in the Camargue to defer breeding until 5–6 y of age, while the males deferred breeding until 4 y of age (239).

Intervals Between Breeding

There is no information about intervals between breeding events in individuals. In a sample at the Camargue, among birds that were banded as chicks from 1977 to 1997 and resighted until 2001 (n = 14,716), the breeding probability was determined by age and previous breeding experience (240). In the Camargue, the annual breeding probability of individual flamingos 4–14 y old was 0.93 during normal years, but 0.76 when there was a cold spell the preceding winter (241). Resighting probability increased with age in both sexes, indicating progressive access to breeding status (241).

Annual and Lifetime Reproductive Success

Hatching Success

In the Camargue, hatching success varied between years. The age of the breeding birds had a positive effect on hatching success (10). At Pétrola Lake (Spain), mean hatching success was 70.05% ± 32.15 SD, range 4.50–97.71% (n = 11 years) (after data in 242, 243, and J. Picazo, personal communication). At Lakes Elmenteita and Nakuru (Kenya), mean hatching success was 53.4% ± 35.8 SD, range 0–88.15% (n = 11 years) (195). At Sua Pan (Botswana), the estimated number of breeding pairs during the 1999–2000 season was 23,869, and estimated hatching success was 77% (115). Variability in hatching success was due to colony abandonment caused by predator disturbance, exposure, and depredation; see Causes of Mortality.

Breeding Success

In natural wetlands, breeding success (annual numbers of fledged chicks relative to nesting pairs) shows great variation between sites and between years within the same site, whereas in managed wetlands as saltpans, variation in breeding success is lower (10). In the Mediterranean region, the probability of successful breeding in saltworks (mean 0.83, 95% confidence interval: 0.66–0.93, n = 7 colonies) was higher than in natural habitats (mean 0.44, 95% confidence interval: 0.35–0.52, n = 6 colonies) (244).

In the marshes of the Guadalquivir (Spain), mean breeding success was 10.6% ± 28.0 SD (n = 10 years) (143); in Lakes Elmenteita/Nakuru (Kenya), mean breeding success was 17.96% ± 22.90 SD, range 0–65.94% (n = 11 years) (195); in the Santa Pola saltworks (Spain), it was 33% (1 year) (245); in the Margherita di Savoia saltworks (Italy), the mean breeding success between 1995‒2006 was 41.70% ± 32.02 SD, range 0–93.81%, (n = 12 years) (estimated from data in Figure 2 in 246). In the Ebro delta (Spain), mean breeding success was 46.98% ± 22.52 SD, range 0–86.27 (n = 14 years) (247); in Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain), it was 48.98% ± 28.95 SD between 1984–1988, range 20.3–84.2 (n = 5 years) (238), while between 1990–1994 it was 56.0% ± 23.8, range 23.0–84.2 (n = 3 years) (117); in the Camargue (France), in a managed wetland, mean breeding success between 1969–2000 was 56.11% ± 16.17 SD, range 12.98–87.28 (n = 32 years) (estimated from data in Figure 47 in 10). In the Comacchio saltworks (Italy), the mean breeding success from 1999–2007 was 58.36% ± 40,28 SD, range 0–84.56 (n = 9 years) (estimated from data in Figure 3 in 246). In Pétrola Lake (Spain), it was 59.82% ± 31.10 SD, range 3.25–92.90 (n =11 years) (after data in 242, 243, and J. Picazo, personal communication); in the Macchiareddu saltworks (Sardinia, Italy), it was 64.14% ± 31.62 SD, range 0–91 (n = 7 years) (248); in El Hondo (Spain), it was 70% (n = 3 years) (245); in Stagno di Molentargius (Sardinia, Italy), it was 70.83% ± 33.78 SD, range 0–94 (n = 12 years) (248); in Sua Pan (Botswana), it was 77.49 % during the 1999–2000 season (115); and at Garaet Ezzemoul (Algeria), breeding success was very high (92%) in 2005 (75).

There is age-related variation in breeding success, as was observed in the Camargue. Indeed, the proportion of successful breeders increased from 4 to 15 y old (10). Predation, adverse weather, and human disturbances are among the main factors that determine breeding failures in Greater Flamingo. Desertion of a colony of 4,500 pairs was caused by 17 Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) at Lake Elmenteita (195; see Predation). In the marshes of the Guadalquivir (Spain), colonies were deserted during some years in which wild boars (Sus scrofa) entered the breeding sites (119).

The number of chicks successfully fledged every year in Fuente de Piedra Lake was predicted by rainfall in the marshes of the Guadalquivir during the preceding October–March (117). This likely indicates that food availability is important for successful breeding, as the marshes of the Guadalquivir are the main feeding area during the chick provisioning period for flamingos nesting in Fuente de Piedra Lake. See Parental Care: Feeding.

Estimates of Productivity

Information needed.

Lifetime Reproductive Success

Information needed.

Life Span and Survivorship

The oldest recorded wild Greater Flamingo was 40 years and 23 days old (10). Oxidative stress could play a role in the pattern of senescence. A study of the resistance of red blood cells to free radical attack in a captive population of known age (0.3 to 45 years) recorded a convex relationship, with young adults (12–20 years old) having greater resistance to oxidative stress than immature (5 months old) and old flamingos (30–45 years old) (249).

In the Camargue (France), mean survival for cohorts from 1977–1985 was 83.7 ± 2.1 SD during the first year of life, 71.5 ± 4.1 SD from the first to second year, and 88.8 ± 4.0 SD from the second to third year (250). Survival probabilities of breeding birds returning to their natal colony in the Camargue were above 0.93 and 0.97 for males and females, respectively. However, recruitment has survival costs for young females, as mortality probability was 0.19 for individuals 4 years old, but nearly 0 for individuals 6 years old (239).

Disease and Body Parasites

Diseases

Multiple diseases are known in Greater Flamingo, some of which can cause episodes of mass death. In particular, several viruses causing diseases have been in the species. West Nile virus (WNV) circulation was demonstrated by detecting the presence of WNV-specific antibodies in birds from Doñana and Fuente de Piedra, Spain (251). Toscana virus genotype A and B sequences were identified in brain and kidney tissues in an individual from Anatolia (Türkiye) (252). Seroprevalence against type A influenza virus was isolated in a wild Greater Flamingo from Iran (253) but not from the Camargue (France) (254). The highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus was detected in a captive bird in Hong Kong (China) (255). Newcastle disease virus was isolated by Boynukara et al. (256) in a wild individual from Lake Van (Türkiye) and by Kaleta and Marschall (257) in captive birds in Germany. Greater Flamingo was affected by botulism (0.3% of 921 observed) in Free State (South Africa) (258) and (1% of 1,115 waterbirds found dead) in the Western Cape province (South Africa) (259). Mycobacterium, which causes tuberculosis, and Pseudomonas, which causes septicemia, has been recorded from birds in Kenya (260).

Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus, was detected in a captive bird, causing a small cystic injury in a diverticulum of an air sac (261). An aneurysm in a female was associated with Aspergillus fumigatus infection (262). In zoos, birds are affected by several diseases that have not been detected in wild populations, such as haemosiderosis, amyloidosis, gout, and enteritis (263). Pododermatitis, an inflammation of the skin of the foot caused by a bacterial infection, affects captive flamingos, but rarely wild ones (264).

Body Parasites

Ectoparasites

Phthiraptera (Amblycera): Colpocephalum heterosoma (265; France, 266; Algeria, 267; Türkiye, 268); Colpocephalum rosei (India, 269); Colpocephalum salimalii (France, 266); Trinoton femoratum (265; France, 266; Algeria, 267; Türkiye, 268).

Phthiraptera (Ischnocera): Anaticola phoenicopteri (France, 266; Algeria, 267; Türkiye, 268; Egypt, 270); Anatoecus pygaspis (265; France, 266; Algeria, 267; Türkiye, 268).

Endoparasites

Cestodes: Amabilia lamelligera (265; Kazakhstan, 271); Cladogynia phoeniconaiadis (Kazakhstan, 271; Egypt, 272); Flamingolepis liguloides (265; France, 273; Egypt, 270); Flamingolepis megalorchis (265; Kazakhstan, 271); Flamingolepis caroli (265; France, 273); Flamingolepis flamingo (265; Kazakhstan, 271; France, 273); Flamingolepis [Cladogynia] tengizi (Kazakhstan, 271); Flamingolepis [Cladogynia] dolguschini (Kazakhstan, 271); Gynandrotaenia stammeri (265; France, 273; Egypt, 272); Hymenolepis fanatica (265); Leptotaenia ischnorhyncha (Egypt, 272); Parabiglandatrium phoenicopteri (Kazakhstan, 271); Sobolevicanthus gracilis (Egypt, 272; Iraq, 274); Yapolepis sp. (Egypt, 272).

Trematodes: Acanthoparyphium phoenicopteri (265; Tunisia, 275); Catatropis liara (265); Cloacitrema dubaiensis (Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 276); Echinoparyphium elegans (265); Echinoparyphium paraulum (265); Gymnophallus micropharyngeus (265); Notocotylus linearis (265); Notocotylus urbanensis (Iraq, 274).

Nematodes: Striatofilaria phoenicopteri (Kazakhstan, 271); Tetrameres sp. (Kazakhstan, 271; Iraq, 274).

Malaria (Plasmodium sp.) has been diagnosed in an individual at the Rotterdam Zoo (The Netherlands) (277).

Causes of Mortality

Exposure

Heavy rainfall or storms in some years can flood nests and cause breeding failure. Flooding caused 16.2% of egg mortality and 6.6% of chick mortality at Lake Elmenteita between 1951–1971 (195). In the Camargue (France), many eggs were lost during flooding or heavy rainfall (10). A heavy hailstorm in Pétrola Lake (Spain) in late August 2015 caused the death of 253 juveniles, 1 immature, and 76 adults; in addition, 32 juveniles and 9 adults were wounded (278). The rapid drying of wetlands can also cause mass mortality of chicks, as observed in Sua Pan (Bostwana) during the 2000–2001 breeding season (115). High tides in colonies located in intertidal areas can also flood the nests, as has been observed in the Banc d'Arguin National Park (Mauritania) (69).

During a cold spell in January 1985 in the Camargue (France), the temperature fell to ­-10.6 ºC, and 2,945 Greater Flamingo were found dead, after which the survival estimates fell to 0.76 (250). Following another cold spell in the Camargue in February 2012, during which ambient temperature fell to ­-6.6 ºC, more than 1,500 individuals were found dead (179). In Azerbaijan, large numbers died during cold spells in the winters of 1924–1925, 1938–1939, and 1949–1950; in 1969, >1,000 were recorded dead (205).

Frequent eruptions of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas in the waters along the Namibian coast were associated with the death in April 2001 of ca. 400 flamingos in Walvis Bay (279). In Doñana National Park (Spain), 579 of 943 chicks died in 2001 due to a bloom of the toxic cyanobacterias Microcystis aeruginosa and Anabaena [Aphanizomenon] flos-aquae (280).

Depredation

1.8% of egg mortality and 36.5% of chick mortality was caused by Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumenifer) predation and disturbance at Lake Elmenteita (195). Other avian and mammalian species are also predators of Greater Flamingo. See Behavior: Predation.

Disease

Several diseases can cause high mortality rates. See Diseases and Body Parasites.

Competition

Competition for nesting sites with Great White Pelican caused 6.9 % of Greater Flamingo egg mortality at Lake Elmenteita and Lake Nakuru. Pelican movements in the breeding colony caused the crushing of eggs (195).

Two events of intraspecific interference were recorded in Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain) in 1985 (117). The first one took place in mid-April, after a breeding colony in the marshes of the Guadalquivir was deserted due to stormy weather. The flamingos moved to Fuente de Piedra, where they tried to settle in sites where other adults were breeding. As a result, 2,564 eggs were deserted and 329 chicks died. The second event took place on 9 May, when a colony in the marshes of the Guadalquivir was deserted due to disturbance by a wild boar. After the failed breeders moved to Fuente de Piedra and occupied an island in which there were 251 nests, 39 eggs were deserted.

Direct Human Impacts

Human disturbance caused 3.5% of egg mortality at Lake Elmenteita and Lake Nakuru (Kenya) (195). Egg collecting for human consumption has also been recorded in some breeding areas (10).

Population Spatial Metrics

Individual Distance

Greater Flamingo breeds in compact groups where nests are in close proximity. The distance between neighboring nests and their density have been examined in several breeding colonies. The mean distance between nests in the Camargue (France) was 60 cm (range 45–80 cm, n = 100) (281). In Bredasdorp (South Africa), the mean distance between neighboring nests was 35.2 cm ± 13.1 SD (range 12–72 cm, n = 53) (14).

Nest densities of 1.3/m2 have been recorded in the Camargue (281), 0.88 nests/m2 at Taraba Island (Turkmenistan) (28), 1.3 nests/m2 at Great Rann of Kutch (India) (282), 1–3 nests/m2 on West Kiaione Island (Banc d'Arguin National Park, Mauritania) (283), 1.7 nests/m2 at Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain) (117), and 2.6–2.9 nests/m2 at Lake Elmenteita (Kenya) (33). The density of nests is not homogeneous within colonies. For instance, in 1991 at Fuente de Piedra Lake, it varied between 2.79 nests/m2 in some plots (of 10 × 10 m) and 0.03 nests/m2 in other plots, with the plots of lower densities being occupied by halophilous scrub and rocks (117). In addition, there may be interannual variations in nest densities, as in Fuente de Piedra (117).

Territory Size

The territory is limited to the nest (33, 281); spacing is controlled by pecking distances between neighbors (14). When adult flamingos or small chicks move throughout the colony or attempt to steal nest material, they may be pecked by incubating birds (33, 230).

Home Range Size

Information needed.

Population Status

Numbers

The overall population has been estimated at 690,000–910,000 individuals (284). Populations were estimated (years in parentheses) at 135,000–165,000 individuals (2009–2014) in the western Mediterranean; 90,000–130,000 individuals (2011–2012) in the eastern Mediterranean; 80,000–120,000 individuals (1975–2014) in eastern Africa; 100,000–160,000 individuals (1973–2014) in southern Africa and Madagascar; 45,000–95,000 individuals (2005) in western Africa; and 240,000 individuals (1997–1999) in south-west and southern Asia (284). However, most of these estimates are based on expert opinion and should be treated with caution.

Trends

Population trends are considered unknown in the eastern Mediterranean, eastern Africa, south-western Asia, and southern Asia. Western Mediterranean populations are considered stable, southern African and Magadagascar populations are fluctuating, and in western Africa, populations are stable/fluctuating (284), where "fluctuating" indicates populations that cannot be ascribed to increasing, decreasing, or stable. Other sources (e.g., 285) estimate that Greater Flamingo populations are increasing, especially in Europe.

Population Regulation

The regulation of Greater Flamingo populations may be partly driven by stochastic fluctuations in the environment. Suitable nesting conditions occur only in some years. Indeed, the amount of rainfall from October through February in Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain) determined whether there was or was not breeding during 1980–1994; there was breeding when the accumulated rainfall during those months was >270 mm (117). However, both the number of breeding pairs and breeding success were better explained by rainfall accumulated from October through April in the marshes of the Guadalquivir (Spain), which is the main foraging area of adults breeding at Fuente de Piedra during the chick provisioning period (117).

Continuous non-breeding periods were recorded at Fuente de Piedra Lake for 2–3 y (238), at the marshes of the Guadalquivir for 2–7 y (143), at Etosha Sua Pan (Namibia) for 2–5 y (211), and in Tunisia for 4–11 y (10). In southern Mediterranean natural wetlands, the mean probability of successful breeding in a given year is 0.44 (95% confidence interval 0.35–0.52; n = 6 colonies) (244). The high annual survival rate of adults and their longevity allow them to cope with limited and unpredictable reproduction opportunities. See Life Span and Survivorship.

In addition to environmental conditions, there also appears to be density-dependent regulation processes on access to breeding sites. In Fuente de Piedra Lake, there was a strong relationship between the density of breeding adults and the number of eggs displaced outside nest bowls. There was a significant positive effect of nest density on egg losses in quadrats of 10 × 10 m, both in 1997 (r2= 0.72, n= 67, P< 0.001) and 1998 (r2= 0.84, n= 54, P<0.001) (143). Reduced space on nesting islets also limits recruitment of young adults into the colonies due to competition with adults (142, 286, 143, 240). Density-dependent factors may also operate through other phases of breeding, as in the Camargue, where there was a negative relationship between the number of breeding adults and chick body condition (118).

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