19 November 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Flamingo Fandango

Of all the waterbirds, flamingos are among the most eccentric. You could spend a rewarding hour watching them from a birdhide with a pair of binoculars and come away from the agreeable experience shaking your head in smiling bewilderment.

Watch carefully and you’ll see them indulge in strange ceremonies of preening and greeting. They waggle their oddly shaped heads about like hockey sticks, while honking like geese. They’ll suddenly spread their wings in unison.

A group will suddenly march off in a formal minuet, and then march back to where they started, uttering odd grunts.

That’s apart from their normal feeding behavior, which is also fairly eccentric. They eat little diatoms and tiny shrimps, algae and whatever nutritious gunk they can stir up from the mud with their toes. Their tongues are more filtering piston-pumps than tasting organs. (Not surprisingly, the Romans thought these bristly fleshy tongues were delicious.) To get at their food, they’ll usually put their entire heads upside down under water for extended periods.

And they’ll also stand for hours on end with one foot hoicked up under the belly and the head and neck lying on the back, like a pink stilted caricature of the Dying Swan.

There’s no real foretelling where you might run across them, either the greater or lesser versions. The lagoons and estuaries of the West Coast are favourite places, but you may suddenly see their ballet-pink shapes in farm dams or lakes.

Category: Wildlife

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