The West Indian Flamingo – The National Bird of the Bahamas

The West Indian Flamingo

Phoenicopterus ruber a name that is as funny as its owner, The West Indian Flamingo also known as the Caribbean flamingo.  The flamingos are mainly found in four areas around the world, The Galapagos Islands, Southern Caribbean, Northern Caribbean and the Yucatan Peninsula all in various and numerous locations including Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States and Venezuela. However there are only four main breeding sites, Archipelago de Camaguey in Cuba Rio Lagartos in Yucatan Mexico  Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles and Great Inagua the Bahamas.

 The West Indian Flamingo

 

The Caribbean flamingo is one of six species in the world but is one of the larger varieties of flamingos in the world and it is the most colorful.  The dark pink coloration of their feathers are derived from their food source which comprises mainly of small crustaceans, algae brine flies and shrimp. These animals contain a pigment called carotenoid that the flamingo is able to convert into that pink and orange color on their bodies. In simple terms, a flamingo color is determined by its food.  It was because of this beautiful color that caused the birds to be hunted for their feathers to decorate hats and other materials but person soon found out that the feathers loose their color after a while once detached from the birds.

The West Indian Flamingo Ardastra Gardens and Zoo

 

Although the birds are generally shy around humans or other animals they can become aggressive among themselves as a part of mating or when protecting their mate. It is their shy nature that caused many of the birds to leave the Bahamas in the  1940's due to the low flying planes of world war 2. This threat combined with hunting caused the population to dwindle to an estimated 5000 in the Bahamas.  With the help of the National Audubon Society in the United States, and the Bahamas National Trust placing bans and creating protected areas the population began to grow to a now estimated 80,000 on the island of Inagua which is the second largest population in the world next to Cuba.  Although it is illegal to capture, harm or even kill a flamingo in the Bahamas their species is still being threatened by other factors. Because flamingos only have one chick per year and their nest are built on the ground their eggs are often damaged by passing donkeys and other animals.

The West Indian Flamingo

 

Interesting information about the West Indian Flamingo;

- Flamingos are not only found on Inagua in the Bahamas. Smaller populations have migrated to Mayaguanna, Crooked and Acklin islands, Exumas, Long Island and Andros

- Lake Windsor is the name of the lake in Inagua where the flamingo population come to reproduce. It is called Lake Rosa by the locals

- Henry Nixion and Rudolph Burrows are the  park wardens in Inagua

- There are a total of 6 species of flamingos in the world. The other species are Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), Puna (James's) Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi).

- Local Inaguans pronounce the name flamingo ‘fil-a-mingoes’

- Flamingos can tolerate extremely salty water which makes lake Rosa a prime area for reproduction. The Morton salt company also uses lake Rosa to produce sea salt and it is the brine areas that attract many flamingos because it is often rich and teaming with brine shrimp, small crustaceans and other food sources.

- 'Hush Hush' is a word used by Bahamians to describe flamingo meat. As it is illegal to harm these birds there are some persons who will take a chance with the law and attempt to kill a bird for its meat. This is highly illegal in the Bahamas is punishable by a fine and incarceration.

If you find yourself visiting Inagua, which is the most southern Island in the Bahamas, be sure to visit the national trust office before setting off to see the flamingo colony. Keep in mind they are very skittish and your presence can scare them off.

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