Each month we focus on a species of wildlife that is being helped by Fair to Nature farming…

February – The Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingos using traditional and Fair to Nature salt pans surrounded by industrial development             © Simon Tonkin

The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is our species of the month during February. Our new Fair to Nature licensee, Marisma21, are lucky enough to have these amazing birds feeding and breeding near their salt pans.

There are six species of Flamingo and the Greater Flamingo is the most widespread. It can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America.

Greater Flamingo

Greater Flamingos are amongst the oddest of birds, but they are well adapted to life in the specialized habitat of salt pans and marshes. They feed by paddling their webbed feet to disturb the mud and, holding their specially shaped bill upside down, filtering the brackish water for small shrimps, molluscs and insects. Their tongue acts like a piston to draw water through the bill. Their pink feathers, which develop slowly as the birds mature into adults, come from algae rich in carotenoid pigments.

Flamingos pairs are monogamous – they stay together for life. They only breed when the conditions are right and there is plenty of food around. A shortage of food may mean they don’t breed that year. The female lays a single egg on the most rudimentary of nests in the form of a mound of mud. The chicks are born with a straight beak and are fed entirely on a creamy liquid secreted by the parent birds, called crop milk, for the first 3 to 4 weeks of life. Their beaks start to curve at about 4 weeks old and they start to filter feed properly at around 2 months of age.

Extracting salt from Bay of Cadiz salt pans

Extracting salt the traditional way by hand © Simon Tonkin

Greater Flamingos rely on wetlands and salt marshes for suitable breeding sites and adequate sources of food and are therefore threatened by pollutants and water extraction that increases salinity or makes their nests accessible to predators like foxes and feral dogs. Marisma21, are located in the Bay of Cadiz, on the south western coast of Spain, where they extract salt using traditional methods and ensure that the birds breeding sites and their food sources are protected.

Although rarely seen in Britain, Greater Flamingos are occasionally seen on estuaries and lakes, having escaped from captive bird collections.

You can read more about what Marisma21 are doing for wildlife in the Bay of Cadiz in Simon’s Blog – Producing salt just like the Romans did!