Dancing Flaming Birds
It is believed that Egyptians were the first to name these birds and because of their fire red coloring they chose to call them “flame”. It was a time when these birds were somehow envisaged as portrayals of the God Ra, the god of sun. It must have been because their plumage was at times resembled to the burning rays of the sun. I have to admit that they show really unique physical traits and their coloring most surely manages to attract our attention and put us under some sort of a magic spell that may trigger our curiosity and make us want to discover more information about them. I shall now reveal their name as after all every mystery has to be revealed sooner or later, isn’t it?
Well, the mystery this time carries the name of flamingo birds.
You may call me passionate or crazy if you wish but I feel irresistibly attracted to this bird. Now don’t be naughty and tend to think that I am some kind of a freak who wishes to conquer the heart of a poor yet colorful bird but rather interpret my words as some sort of a declaration of love or better said sympathy for one of the most intriguingly built birds. Why do I call flamingos intriguing birds? Be sure that when I do this I have most surely good reasons to do this! Marching in their world as such also imitating one of their favorite time spending activities one may manage to find amazingly interesting facts about these birds.
Did you know that much like the phoenix bird flamingo birds are thought to have been born from ashes? For some, this piece of information may be just another legend, for others it may be the very reason why they feel attracted to these birds and for some it may be an insignificant fact as they may not care about anything but their person and the persons close to them. It all depends on how each of these persons defines beauty and on how each one chooses to make its choices in life.
But since I do not intend to refer to the choices one makes in life but rather to flamingos I shall now start dedicating my time to them. Step by step or better said word by word I shall now try to portray them to you, sketching out to the best of my abilities the features and details that make flamingos unique birds. First I’d have to tell you a few things about their family. It may sound pretty strange to some but they belong to a family called Phoenicopteridae. So, once we have come to know their family name we have to find out where they live, don’t we? They may be found either in lagoons or in mangrove swamps, in big and shallow lakes or on sandy islands and even in hot volcanic lakes or icy lakes in the Andean mountains. As we are dealing with some pretty adaptable birds they will be most surely found on almost every continent of this planet, in Africa, North, Central and South America, Asia and even Europe. And in case you ever wondered how many types of flamingos are out there in the world then the mystery is just about to be clarified: there are neither more nor less than 6 types of flamingos ranging across all the above mentioned parts of the world, namely the so called Chilean flamingos which seem to love the Latin spirit as they live in countries like Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and not to forget Brazil, the lesser flamingos which seem to prefer Africa as their habitat, the so called James’ flamingo, the Caribbean flamingo and last but not least widespread species of flamingo the so called greater flamingo.
And since even humans use to wear different colors when it comes to coats so do the various species of flamingo. As such the color of their feathers varies with each species, fluctuating between such colors as faded pink to crimson or vermillion and if you ever wondered which species displayed the palest color and which one displayed the brightest color then the answers would be Chilean flamingo in the first case and Caribbean flamingos in the latter. No matter the gender of the flamingo the nuances are just about the same and it all resides in the species. And if you thought the things to be that simple then you were wrong mainly because everything in these birds seems to have the attribute of colorfulness, even their legs and feet which amazingly enough can come in such colors as yellow, orange and at times even pink-red. This is precisely why I like calling these birds passion in fire or burning birds. How would you call them other than flamingos?
When it comes to the features that make them unique or in one word to their beauty I cannot but think about a poem I came across while trying to sketch the full portrait of flamingo birds in my mind. The poem is entitled “The Turtle and Flamingo” and was written by James Thomas Fields and it offers us a nice full image of these birds “A lively young turtle lived down by the banks / Of a dark rolling stream called the Jingo; / And one summer day, as he went out to play, / Fell in love with a charming flamingo– / An enormous genteel flamingo! / An expansively crimson flamingo! / A beautiful, bouncing flamingo! / Spoke the turtle, in tones like a delicate wheeze: / “To the water I’ve oft seen you in go, / And your form has impressed itself deep on my shell, / You perfectly modeled flamingo!” Now be honest and tell me if you recognize yourself in this poor turtle declaring its love to the flamingo bird! Before doing this you should perhaps find out more information about them and afterwards make up your mind and see what is there to be done to charm this bird (just a figure of speech of course since there is no way you can do this unless you somehow have the weapon to transform yourself into an irresistible male flamingo. If so tell us too how it feels!)
In order to be “charmed” by someone like this turtle happened to be at the sight of a flamingo one needs to know more about the object of its charm if I may say so and as such march towards it trying to go deep into that matter. And so do us when it comes to these birds. And since they seem to love to socialize, living in large colonies be sure that it could be quite a show to watch them. I am saying this not only because they appear to have an interesting behavior but also because they display interesting physical traits as well. Most of you probably know how flamingos look like: long legs, colorful feathers, sinuous necks and unique beaks. And since I started with their legs I cannot but mention that they have truly long ones that would make many women envy them; in fact their legs seem to be even longer than their body, measuring at times somewhere between 80 to 125 cm depending on the species. No matter how surprising this may sound their “Knee” is actually their ankle and these birds possess the rather awkward skill of bending their ankles in such a way that their lower legs bend forward, different from what it happens in our case. “A” is no longer “A” in their case but rather “B” and as such the foot of the flamingo is actually its toes.
And as eye contact seems to be pretty important in our case how about finding some details about the flamingo’s eyes? Normally their eyes are located on each side of their head and amazingly enough when they are born the flamingo chicks have gray eyes in the first year of their life and afterwards the color of their eyes turns to yellow.
And as the amazing facts do not end here but rather start from this point I have to ask you one question: Have you ever watched a flamingo eating? If you did then most surely you happened to look at its boomerang like bill bended downward and its upside down movements and for sure you found the image fascinating and perhaps intriguing at the same time. Making use of quite complicated feeding techniques flamingos simply “rock” the mud and water with their long legs and “stitched” feet and afterwards simply plunge their bills and sometimes their entire heads, upside down in the water and literally take mouthfuls of mud and water. Amazingly enough in order to sift the food only they will shake their heads from side to side as if in denial as such being able to feed themselves with what they consider to be a delicacy, a must in their daily menu; I am referring here to plankton, fly larvae and even tiny fish. If you wonder how flamingos actually manage to sift food from mud then the answer lies in the so called lamellae which these birds hide inside their beak. Amazingly enough while feeding flamingos are able to hold their breath.
What other interesting facts about flamingos are there? The most appropriate answer would be: plenty of them. So, let me unwrap more of them for you! There is one myth related to these birds which states that in fact their colorful feathers are the result of what they eat. It is said that the pink or reddish color of their feathers is determined by such food as the algae, the crustaceans and even the diatoms they happen to eat. As such as you can all see the bacteria and beta carotene from their food largely influences the vividness or at times dullness of the color they display. So next time you happen to see a rather colorless flamingo be sure that in fact you have in front of you a flamingo which unfortunately is what many would call a malnourished flamingo. On the contrary if you happen to see a bright colored one then most surely you are dealing with a healthy flamingo. At least this is what most scientists seem to be claiming!
As I mentioned at some point something about their behavior I shall now invite you to take a walk among them and perhaps the best times to do this in order to go unnoticed would be to start marching on their side when they do this. You may tend to call me crazy but even so perhaps it would be interesting for you to find out that in fact marching turns out to be some kind of a ritual in the world of flamingos, an activity which probably allows them to meditate and better socialize with the other members of their species. Talking about their activities if you tend to think that they spend all their time eating and getting bored then most surely you prove to be wrong since being a part of a large colony there is no way they could get bored. They have all sorts of activities such as stretching, beautifying (“Vanity thy name is flamingo” – as someone once said) and amazingly enough marching all together in what resembles an army of flamingos. They are quite fun to be watched especially when you happen to see them resting standing on one leg only. Unlike us they seem not to get tired of the adopted position but rather tend to consider it rather comfortable. Even though scientists did not discover yet why they do this it is believed that they do it in order to better conserve their body heat. After all they must have their own reasons to do this but is there a person who can understand their language and reveal to us their secret? Don’t think so!
So, as I said they spend most of their days either “rocking” the mud in search for more “color” (if I am allowed to say so), resting, bathing and just about 15% to 30% of their daily time preening, that is spreading some sort of oil from a gland which is to be found at the base of their tail all along their feathers in order to secure these ones from water. As such they are to be considered quite narcissistic birds, are they? The interesting detail when it comes to feeding is that if they happen not to be breeding then most surely they will be spending their nights eating and their days sleeping or indulging themselves in relaxing activities such as bathing, whereas if they happen to be breeding these birds would rather prefer spend their entire time, either day or night, feeding themselves. I find it interesting how Mother Nature arranges almost everything in nature as if we are talking about some sort of a puzzle.
When it comes to their sleeping habits things happen much like in our case. When saying this I most certainly refer to the sleeping positions they prefer adopting: either sitting down with their legs tucked beneath them or standing on one leg. Honestly which one would you prefer from these two? Neither one for sure since you may wake up quite stiff to say so. This doesn’t look like the case of flamingos at all, does it?
In case you did not know they prefer living around salty lakes but when it comes to drinking water they prefer drinking fresh water. Pretty difficult to be found in these areas and as such they have to content themselves at times with some fresh water from the boiling geysers and even so they seem to have no problem with this “small detail”. And if you ever wondered how they can stand so much salt then most surely you did not know that they exude salt through salt glands in the nostrils.
And just as if to prove that their connection to the flamenco dance was right these birds engage themselves from time to time into what many resemble a dance. A quite breathtaking image for one to watch! Their so called dance comes to be even stranger since scientists were not able to deem the real reason of their rather complicated movements: it could be either a mating ritual, a badly need for some aerobic activity or just an activity performed for fun. No matter the reason for which they engage themselves in all these intricate dance movements it is nevertheless amazing to watch them doing this. If you see them adopting a different posture and using their wings to prove it, performing rather complicated back and forth unison movements, bowing and bending their heads and afterwards engaging in a flight around the lake then most surely they are having fun dancing. Or who knows perhaps they just started their mating ritual!
Talking about mating rituals I have to mention something about the fact that even though they seem to love to socialize and as such spend their time in rather large flocks or as some use to call them a flamboyance of flamingos, these birds prove to be quite faithful and as such usually mate for life being monogamous. And if you ever wondered where flamingo females lay their eggs then you should find out that they manage to do this in their nests, nests which interesting enough they build up by mouthfuls of mud. Their mating season seems to be greatly influenced by the amount of falling rain and as such they would choose to mate during the rainy season. If it happens not to rain at all in one year then most surely this fact will determine flamingos not to mate at all.
Even so, when mating occurs, both parents work in shifts if I may say so, incubating their egg one at a time until a little baby flamingo makes its appearance. So, as you can all see, male flamingos are no macho and choose to liberate their ladies from the yoke of housework duties. What can I say but Bravo to them!
Amazingly enough when taking care of their chick the flamingo parents will come to recognize their baby by sight as well as by the sounds this one emits. So, there is no way flamingo parents could be fooled into feeding another chick! Amazing, isn’t it? Even though it is said that their eyes are bigger than their brain they are quite smart birds, don’t you think so? Curious to explore their environment, chicks will leave their nests after four, sometimes even seven days, when and if they feel strong enough to stand on their feet and walk. Even so, parents keep an eye on them, just in case! Amazingly enough chicks gather in what scientists call crèches that is larger groups, probably some sort of kinder gardens. Parents visit them here only at feeding time. Amazingly enough they feed them with what scientists consider being milk, this time a red milk mainly because it contains a pigment called canthaxanthin. The even more interesting fact comes when finding out that chicks seem to be programmed (not by means of any remote control if this is what you tended to think) to store this pigment in the liver and use it later on when his adult feathers are in their place.
And if you imagined that flamingo chicks are born in full color to say so then you will be surprised to hear that when being born, in their first years of life in fact they are either grey or white. It takes them two years at most to boost into colorful adult flamingos. In fact, while feeding their chick parents lose their coloration and become rather colorless to put it so. And all this for a good cause!
If you ever envisaged flamingos as silent birds then you’d better change your mind and start thinking about them as rather noisy creatures. After all when gathering together and marching in unison don’t you think that they have some gossiping to do? They must be doing all this while either growling or grunting or squawking or perhaps while they are honking. They seem not to be talking to us and as such their language is still unknown to us! Even so they seem to badly need this noisy side of theirs just to communicate with each other and with their chicks as well and perhaps to keep things in good order within their flocks. Wouldn’t you do the same if you were in their shoes?
If you ever wondered how these birds manage to defend themselves or if they have any natural predators then your questions must get an answer. When it comes to defending themselves their only way to do this seems to be by flying away and talking about its predators it looks like they do not have any such predator or perhaps few of them. Given all this information it is no wonder flamingos choose to stay in larger groups. After all whom can you trust most than your faithful partner to watch your back while you have your head buried in mud! It may look pretty funny to some of you to just picture this image but give it a better thought and you’ll see I am most certainly right.
This “bird version of a top model” as I happened to read somewhere is for sure an amazing bird if not one of the most captivating and interesting ones existing out on this planet. When it comes to these birds and the way their mating ritual, if this is what their dance is all about, is often resembled to the so called flamenco dance what comes to my mind now are the words once written by George Bernard Shaw: “Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” Is this the case of flamingos too? Those being familiar with the copulating ritual will probably dare say “No” but did you ask the flamingos too when rushing to give this answer?
If you ever had the curiosity to learn or perhaps watch a pair of dancers dance flamenco then most surely you happened to notice that this dance clearly involves a lot of passion and elegance at the same time, much like the flamingo bird in its rather intricate dance like movements; you most surely happened to see the flamenco dancers clapping and stamping their feet and in case you never took your time to watch the flamingos’ feet then most surely you did not notice that them too stomp their webbed feet in the mud. Do they do it in order to bring the food to the surface or just to cool their feet as some others said it or is this all part of a dance, what do you think?
Asking you all these things I happen to have in mind the words of some people who may have tried to make the difference on this rather crowded planet of ours, namely Leigh Hunt who once said that “Colors are the smiles of nature” and Maya Angelou who said that “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.” I’d say that this applies to flamingo birds as well.11