12 September 2012 by Julienne du Toit

Dance of the flamingo

In odd places all around the countryside now you might encounter unexpected smears of pink on arbitrary roadside bodies of water. What are the flamingos doing there? And is that the sound of a Spanish guitar?

Flamingos reflected – adults in pink, youngsters in grey. Photo Chris Marais

My faithful bird book informs me that the origin of the name flamingo is from the Spanish, flamengo. Surely the author meant flamenco?

If you head out into the South African countryside now, in spring, you’ll see what I mean. Lesser and greater flamingos are all over the place, landing in unlikely farm dams and ephemeral ponds, staying for a few weeks and then disappearing again overnight.

You can almost hear the Spanish guitar and clacka-clacka of castanets as they march in unison, first one way, then another.

You may have to watch some boring moments while they stand with their heads upside down and submerged, hunting for little larvae and shrimplets in the water. But sooner or later, the urge to dance will come upon them.

You can almost hear the Spanish guitar and clacka-clacka of castanets as they march in unison, first one way, then another. They preen and posture. They give ritualised wing salutes. They waggle their comically imperious hockey-stick heads in flouncy gestures. They honk in discordant chorus.

Their mating colours, too, are as vivid as anything a Spanish dancer would wear, and just as over-the-top. Apart from the overall pink colour (which comes courtesy of the tiny crustaceans they eat, and which intensifies in hue when mating), they also have red legs and yellow eyes.

Alas, their collective noun isn’t nearly as descriptive as their name. A collection of these pink birds is a 'stand' of flamingos. Wouldn’t a 'flourish' of flamingos have been better?

Sooner or later, the urge to dance will come upon them. Photo Chris Marais

Category: Wildlife

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