I can hear my neighbor’s snow shovel scraping the driveway pavement. The trees outside my window are covered with white stuff. The birds are constantly at all of my feeders, and I fed them and the squirrels half a loaf of old bread from the refrigerator this morning. It’s cold and wet and yucky. So, I’ve turned my thoughts to warmer places, sunnier days, prettier sights — the beautiful Celestun Biosphere Reserve in Yucatan and its pink birds.
1) This is how a flamingo eats: it plunges its head into the water and twists it upside down so it can use its top beak to scoop up fish and shrimp and snails and algae. Flamingos exemplify the old saying, “you are what you eat” because the pigments in much of their food is what causes the flamingo’s feathers to be pink. They stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up the water and bring up morsels of food.
2) When baby flamingos are born they are white. Both parents take care of the newborn and feed it a fluid they produce in their digestive systems.
3) Young flamingos “grow up” in about five days as that’s when they join other young flamingos. They stay in small groups but go back to their parents for food. A group of young flamingos is called a crèche. After about three weeks the crèche starts to look for food on its own. They eventually also turn pink from the food they eat. The bill, which is straight at birth, gradually turns downward like the adult flamingo.
4) Before a flamingo takes flight it “runs on water” to get a good lift off.
5) Flamingos are very social birds. They live in flocks of 2 to almost 400 birds, and the flocks can live in large colonies of thousands of birds.
6) Flamingos spend a large part of their day preening. They have a gland near the base of the tail that produces an oil that they use to waterproof their feathers.
7) Flamingos live in lakes that are found inland or near the sea. The also like mangrove swamps and tidal flats.
8) They are noisy birds. They honk, grunt, and growl. They have specific calls for certain behaviors; they use vocalization to communicate with the flock; and parents use vocalization to recognize their young.
9) When flamingos rest or sleep they often stand on one leg, and they face the wind so it does not penetrate their feathers.
10) Flamingos have been known to fly more than 300 miles each night between habitats.
11) Most of the water where flamingos live has a high salt concentration, but they drink fresh water. Some birds live near geysers and they are capable of drinking hot water that is near the boiling point.
12) A flamingo generally lays one egg. Both parents take turns sitting on the nest and lifting and turning the egg on occasion with their beaks. The incubation time is between 27 and 31 days.
13) Fossilized flamingo footprints, estimated to be seven million years old, have been found in the Andes Mountains.
14) Flamingos can weigh 5 to 6 pounds and have a wingspan of 55 inches.
For more information: The Celestun Biosphere Reserve is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. It covers 146,000 acres and is located in two states — Yucatan and Campeche. The Celestun River and mangroves are home to thousands of flamingos.