February 1, 2010 – If you are like I used to be, never paying much heed to flamingoes and regarding them as colourful but rather uneventful birds, I have a story for you. A love story that we can call ‘Pink’.
The sea of pink looks good from the Rift Valley ‘View Point’ as you drive down the Nairobi-Naivasha-Nakuru highway, and these spots of colour sure make for interesting courtship.
The Deputy Senior Warden at Lake Nakuru National Park Joseph Dadacha told us that unlike the scenario in the world of humans, it is the male flamingo’s job to attract the female.
“He does this by shedding off his old feathers and getting new shiny bright ones. He then identifies a female and shows off his feathers,” he says.
So the female flamingo does not need lipstick or powder to make the connection. In fact, the deal is not sealed until after strutting his new clothes, he proceeds to demonstrate that he can make a suitable dwelling for them.
“If he does not do a good job, she will reject the house and he has to build a fresh one,” Dadacha explains.
When the female flamingo is satisfied with the nest of love, it now agrees to go all the way… and lays one egg. It has the God-given ability to lay one egg every year.
The male goes a step further, as if it got a memo from Beijing! The colourful bird takes turns with its lovely lady, sitting on the egg every other day, until the egg hatches after about 27 days.
Dadacha says that together, the pair raise the baby bird until it’s about four months old. After that it’s adios amigos… Maybe we’ll meet up next year again, and maybe not. (No need for prenuptials.)
The house consists of a structure of mud and feathers just wide enough to comfortably lay and sit on an egg. The catch is, the male and female have to fly to Tanzania to make it. And no they don’t bring it back to Kenya. The soil and climate there are conducive to hatch the egg.
“When the baby is four months old, they come back. And the cycle starts all over again,” says Dadacha.
Sadly because of the destruction of the Mau and subsequent shrinkage of Lake Nakuru, fewer pinkies can be accommodated there. Numbers have dropped from about 1 million birds 15 years ago, to just around 200,000 now.
Dadacha says the only way to bring the numbers back up and continue this age old love story, is to restore the Mau. Just so you know, a flamingo can live for up to 40 years.