Flamingo flight patterns


The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) fitted satellite-tracking devices to 12 lesser flamingos in 2016 to get a better understanding of their flight patterns. The results were considerably different to expectations, with researchers discovering the birds are capable of long distance, nocturnal flights.

The data on an individual named Kucki showed the first recorded cross-border movement of an individual lesser flamingo to Madagascar. The bird in question covered 1 020km in less than 24 hours. While in Madagascar, Kucki moved up the coastline towards Mahajanga, before returning to her arrival point – the mouth of the Mangoky River.

She finally returned to mainland Africa on 29 May 2018, flying from Madagascar to Mozambique, which entailed a 927km flight over the Mozambican Channel.

Matt Pretorius, senior field officer: Eskom/EWT Strategic Partnership at the EWT, says they expected to see regional movements between regular feeding and breeding sites, but not of this distance. “Kucki’s flight to Madagascar really surprised us,” he says.

tagging lesser flamingos

Image by Andre Botha

Of the 12 birds fitted with tracking devices, six were from an area near Delareyville in the North West province, and six from a pan next to Allanridge near Welkom in the Free State. Kucki was part of the Allanridge group.

One of the threats facing flamingos is collision with power lines and night movements could mean conventional diverters might not be effective for species like the lesser flamingo. The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, as well as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species have the lesser flamingo listed as Near Threatened. The EWT will continue to monitor the sample of birds to gain greater insight into movement patterns. “An interesting follow-up to our study would be to see if the greater flamingo displays similar flight patterns across southern Africa,” says Pretorius

Written by René de Klerk

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