Pick up a tourist brochure or magazine about Cyprus and chances are, a rather stunning pink flamingo will be staring right at you. And for good reason! Beautiful and graceful, there’s nothing quite like the site of the glistening salt lake in the winter as migratory flamingos call the place their home between the wetter months of November and March.
But are you familiar with everything there is to know about the graceful birds? My Cyprus Insider now lets you in on some fun facts that may well surprise you!
1. They are not born pink!
If you’re down at one of the salt lakes and spot a grey flamingo, don’t be too bewildered, it’s just a sign of slight immaturity! What many people don’t know is that flamingos are not actually born pink, but with grey feathers which naturally turn pink over time (a process that comes with maturity) because of the high levels of beta carotene that they obtain from their diet of brine shrimp, crustaceans and blue – green algae. Flamingos in a zoo may turn white if their diet isn’t properly supplemented.
2. The past two years running, we had a black visitor
2016 and 2015 saw the arrival of a black flamingo at the Akrotiri Salt Lake. And the mighty black bird is thought to be the only one of its kind in the world!
But why the unusual colour? Experts believe it’s due to a highly rare condition known as ‘melanism’, a genetic irregularity that causes it to generate more melanin than normal. Its arrival both this year and last caused a media frenzy, with news reports of its whereabouts circulating around the world.
3. They all arrive hungry for…delicious brine shrimp
Flamingos flock to the island year in and year out in search of what they regard as the most tasty feast of all…brine shrimps! And flamingos are rather opportunistic creatures, sticking around as long as there’s food or water in the lake. Arriving from the islands of the wider Mediterranean region, many flock here from Turkey in search of sustainable wetland, while others come from Sardinia, North Italy and Iran salt lakes.
4. They are officially called Phoenicopterus roseus (Greater Flamingos)
Yes, that’s their official name, more commonly known as Greater Flamingos – the most common species of the flamingo family. They are usually found in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and southern Europe.
5. It is thought they may stand (and sleep) on one leg to conserve body heat
While there have been a number of theories circulating about this (and no one has yet provided an absolutely definite explanation) ongoing research has indicated that flamingos prefer to stand on one leg far more often when they are standing in water than when standing on land. And given that legs and feet are a significant source of heat loss in birds, it is believed that if both legs were put into the water, they would lose far more body heat than necessary. And so, the clever birds seem to have decided that standing on one leg is far more sensible than two!
6. They are the largest species of flamingos
The flamingos here average 110 to 150 cm in height, but that doesn’t mean that they’re heavy. Weighing just two to four kilos, this rather low body density is absolutely essential for flight.
7. There’s well over 10 000 of them here right now
With at least 10 000 of them on the island at the moment, it’s estimated that the official January count (that hasn’t yet taken place) could even indicate a figure closer to 15 000, according to Cyprus Game and Fauna Officer, Nicos Kasinis. With most of them arriving in Cyprus as soon as the rainy spell began, their numbers largely depends on the rainfall and its timing. While during some years, no more than 3000 flamingos landed on the island, other years saw a whopping 20 000 call Cyprus their home for a few wintry months.
8. They often first arrive at the Akrotiri Salt Lake, not the Larnaca lake
Not just all about a love affair with the Larnaca salt lake, many flamingos actually first touchdown in the Akrotiri salt lake in November and December, then moving on to Larnaca when the rain fills the lake and seasonal food increases.
9. Flamingos really love the Oroklini Lake too
Most people have little idea that the Oroklini Salt Lake also accommodates gorgeous flamingos; a wonderful wetland with very accessible viewpoints. That’s not to forget the Paralimni Lake, also attracting flamingos on occasion. In fact, you may be able to spot a few this weekend!
10. Some stick around all year round!
Yes that’s right, flamingos are not solely here in the winter as most people believe. Sometimes, you can spot non-breeding flamingos all year round in Akrotiri because the water in this lake doesn’t always evaporate completely.
Please note: due to the high number of visitors wishing to catch a glimpse of the flamingos, authorities have urged everyone to pay respect to the birds and the surrounding wildlife, advising that cars should only be parked in designated areas near the salt lakes in question, noise in the area should be kept to a minimum, and no one should get too close to the flamingos so as not to disturb their peace.