Flamingos don’t start out pink, but get that way after a diet of brine shrimp. Photo: Pinterest

It’s a banner year for pink flamingos, with a record 21,960 nests counted in Yucatán’s Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve.

And now those nests are filled with eggs that have begun to hatch at the reserve, which encompasses 233 square miles in the northeast corner of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The pink flamingo, or “el rosado del Caribe,” is one of the six species of flamingos in the world. Chicks hatch with white feathers that turn gray. The pink color of its plumage occurs because it feeds on small crustaceans called artemia, or brine shrimp, its favorite food.

Flamingos lay only one egg a year, which hatches after 28 to 30 days.

Depending on the season, flamingos arrive at the biosphere reserves at Ria Lagartos, Celestún or Los Petenes; or the the Flora and Fauna Protection Area of Yum Balam.

Flamboyances — the collective noun for flamingos – are usually found near Uaymitun, Isla Holbox and Rio Lagartos, but a new population started to form in summer 2017 around the population center and port city of Progreso.

According to reports, the pink birds arrived in search of a new food source and descended upon the mangroves near the beach. Not only is this a new location for flamingos, but it’s also easy to visit. The mangroves are 20 meters/66 feet from the road.

They change location depending on the season. Most of the time, they are found in mangrove forests in the fall and winter months before moving to places like Rio Lagartos in the spring and summer.

A healthy population of flamingos is an indicator that the ecosystem, in this case the mangroves of the Área Natural Protegida (Natural Protected Area), are in a good state of conservation. Mangroves are ecosystems rich in biodiversity, and are the habitat in which the development of early stages of fish, mollusks and crustaceans takes place, and are home to crocodiles, jaguars, more than 395 species of resident and migratory birds, as well as a variety of fish.

The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), in coordination with the nonprofit Pedro and Elena Hernandez Foundation, monitors the flamingos nesting areas. The foundation has been in place since 2002.

A healthy flamingo grows up to measure 140 cm/4.6 feet in height and 150 cm/five feet in wingspan. For its proper development, it requires low water with varying salt concentrations.

But the iconic flamingo remain strangely mysterious.

“As recognizable as they are, we don’t know much about them,” says Chris Brown, curator of birds at the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium, who studies the flamingos on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Why do they stand on one leg? Scientists postulate that it has to do with the way the birds rest, but no one is certain.

And because they live in remote areas and migrate as feeding grounds flood or dry out, researchers have a hard time counting and tracking them—or learning how they may be affected by drought, hurricanes, and fluctuating water levels due to climate change or coastal development.

What is known is that flamingos are gregarious and fiercely loyal. They perform group mating dances. Parents dote on chicks, gathering them into crèches for protection while both Mom and Dad fly off to search for food.

And when danger looms, thousands move as one—a ballet that gives them a “leg up” on survival in a dangerous world.

Sources: Sipse, National Geographic

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