Thursday, May 22, 2008

Flamingos of Mumbai ....

The word flamingo comes from the Latin word for flame or fire. They are referred to locally by many names – in Marathi they are called “Rohit” or “Raktak”. In Hindi, they are called “Agni Pankh” or “Rajhans” and in English they are called “Flamingo” or “Flame Bird”…….The pink colour in their plumage is due to the “Beta carotene” rich food in the form of blue green algae and Shrimps (In zoos the flamingo food is often mixed with carrots that contain this pigment)…even their flesh is pink in colour…As the breeding season approaches the lesser flamingos (adults only) are adorned with rich pink colour all over the body, with wings and legs getting almost scarlet ……When-ever, I see the flashy wings of these flame birds, I often remember the famous dialogue by Amitabh in his film “Agnipath”……and I recite the dialogue in AB style…….“Agnipankh, Agnipankh, Agnipankh” ….

The lesser flamingos before leaving the shores of Mumbai to their breeding grounds…..perform a spectacular display that is rivaled by none…...Even if you do not get any images…...its an amazing experience to just watch this…..the bright pink adults group together in tight formations (sometimes over 300 adults) and move around adorning their lovely plumage, twisting and turning their necks, right & left, up & down, side to side, opening their wings in between, a flap here & a flap there, tapping their delicate feet in water……they march together to announce that they are ready and healthy…resembling like the flames rising from water……...this is what I call “The Flame Dance”

A "Pat" of flamingos dancing (Group of flamingos is called a "Pat") one of the strangest, most breathtaking sights in the natural is amazing to see this spectacle in the heart of one of the worlds most populous cities "Mumbai.....The lesser flamingos have specific feeding requirements unlike the Greater and the effluent rich warm waters released by the surrounding industries provide rich source of food for these pink beauties......But the pollutants that attract them here may also be slowly poisoning them in a long run.....These "Dancing Flamingos" of Sewri can be best seen in the months of April and May… you can see the spectacular “Broken Neck” display which is a part of their dance ritual :))

The myth of the legendary Phoenix has been around for centuries…It goes like this…..”The Phoenix is a legendary, beautiful, brightly colored bird of great size. Its plumage resembles the flames it rises from upon its rebirth from the ashes, combining orange and red hues. Its eyes glow a deep ruby red”…...The Flamingo is often associated with this mythical bird. The Early Christians thought that the flamingo was the basis of the legend of the Phoenix and viewed it as a metaphor for the resurrection of Christ. Phoenix is the Greek word for "red", which links this magical bird to fire and the sun, hence its family name Phoenicopteridae …. This image reminds me of that mythical bird “The Phoenix” that rises from the ashes like fire....

Some FAQs on the Flamingos of Mumbai:

1. What are Flamingos and why are they pink?

A Flamingo is a beautiful long legged pink feathered wading bird found in India, Africa, Europe and South America. It has a large down turned beak and have broad pink wings with black tips. Some flamingo species like the greater flamingo can reach upto 5 feet in height and weighs upto 4 kgs. They live upto 20 years in wild.

The word "flamingo" stems from the Latin word meaning flame. Flamingos obtain their pink/orange/reddish coloration from what they eat. A diet high in carotenoid pigments (same stuff in carrots) gives the flamingo feathers their trademark coloration. Young chicks are pale to white in color and it is believed that flamingos won’t mate until they obtain their color. If flamingos do not receive enough carotene in their diet, they become malnourished and turn pale.

Flamingos sometimes stand on one leg while resting. They stand on one leg to shift their weight to a better rested leg. Flamingos have webbed feet which help to support them on soft mud. They can also swim. A gathering of flamingos is called a pat.

2. Where do flamingos live?

Flamingos live in lagoons, or lakes, where there is lots of mud and water. Flamingos use a variety of habitats: mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands in the intertidal zone. The depth of the water is especially important not only for feeding but for nesting. Hence they often have to migrate in search of a good and favorable habitat to survive.

3. What do flamingos eat and How?

The typical flamingo diet consists of diatoms, seeds, blue-green algae, crustaceans, and mollusks that they filter out of the water. Using their long legs and partially webbed feet, flamingos will stamp on the muddy bottom of lagoons to mix the food particles with the water. They have a unique beak that is lined with comb like lamellae (similar to whales) which help them to filter out water and take in their food. Flamingos drink fresh water.

4. How do flamingos breed?

Flamingos live in large groups all year long called colonies. Tens of thousands of flamingos can live in one colony! Within a colony, flamingos breed in pairs during the breeding season. Every pair of flamingos does not breed every year; however, breeding flamingos are able to reproduce by the age of about six. There is no specific season associated with breeding, but it seems to be correlated with rain. Nest building may depend on rainfall and its effect on food supply.

When they are ready to lay eggs, birds will form pairs. Within the whole colony, groups of birds will be engaged in courtship displays -, a predictable sequence of displays including marching and head turning, calling and preening. Several hundred to several thousand flamingos are all doing the same behaviors at the same time. This helps to synchronize breeding within the colony, so that most of the birds are laying eggs or raising young at the same time.

Every flamingo does not nest every year. When they do nest, they typically lay one large, white egg. The nest is built of mud, small stones, and feathers on the ground and is in the shape of a volcano.

5. What do nestling flamingos eat?

Parent flamingos do not regurgitate food for their young the way most birds do. They feed their nestling a liquid substance called 'crop milk' (Like the pigeons), a secretion of the upper digestive tract stimulated by the hormone prolactin. Crop milk is dark red in color and very high in fat and protein and is produced by both male and female birds. Both parents nurse their chick for about two months until their bills are developed enough to filter feed.

6. Where do they come from in Sewri Mudflats?

Though studies have not been done, it is believed that the flamingos migrate to Sewri all the way from Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, where they are believed to breed in huge numbers of almost half a million. About 10000-15000 flamingos come to Sewri and the neighboring places in the month of November and leave back in the month of May or June.

7. Why do they migrate?

When conditions become unfavorable in their breeding grounds like drying up of water, food shortage, they have to look up for a new and favorable place to spend the winter. They spread across the country in search of such places, sometimes migrating to the same locations year after year. Since Sewri also is an ideal place, some of them migrate here.

8. Why do Flamingos come to Sewri?

Flamingos not only come to Sewri but also in other places like Vasai, Trombay, Thane Creek and also travel to other parts of India like Chilika lake in Orissa, Pulicat Lake and Point Calimer in Tamil Nadu.

However, Sewri mudflats are preferred because it provides the right habitat (Muddy shore) and plenty of food. This food that contains blue-green algae, brine shrimps and mollusks thrive on the increased silt and pollution that is thrown out from the surrounding factories. Moreover, since the Sewri bay is surrounded from all sides by important and sensitive companies (like BPCL and HP refineries and fertilizer companies like RCF) and also because the Mangrove acts as a buffer, the flamingos gets some protection too.

Over the years a lot of siltation has occurred in the Thane creek, because of various reasons like destruction of mangroves, more effluents and waste products from the industry, sewage disposal in the creek, soil erosion in various places, reclamation at most of the places, construction of big complexes near the coastal area…..because of this the water is shallow here and algae growth is fast.

9. When should one come to see flamingos in Sewri?

Flamingos are best seen in Sewri at least 4-5 hrs before the high tide, when the tide is coming in or 2 hrs after the high tide…..During the high tide, the flamingos move away in the mangroves for rest and return back to feed during the low tide.

However, you can see them all the time during low tide, but they are very far from the shore. Alternately, one can hire a boat from Mahul side to have a closer look. The ideal time to take a boat is 2 hrs after the low tide.

10. Why are flamingos not found on Sandy beaches?

Flamingos are very selective in their habitat. They prefer only Muddy beaches and not sandy beaches, because they get their food (Blue-green algae & Brine) only in muddy shores. Hence these flamingos are not found on shores like Alibaug, Juhu, Girgaum chowpatty or Dadar chowpatty which are sandy shores.

The Greater flamingos on the other hand can also live in freshwater marshes, hence they can be seen on large rivers in Pune, Malshej Ghats, Orissa or even in yamuna river in Delhi.

11. How many different types of flamingos are there in India and in the world?

There are 5 species of flamingos: Greater, Lesser, Caribbean, Andean, Chilean, and James. The James flamingos are a sub-species of Greater flamingo. The Lesser flamingos are the smallest of all the species of flamingos and the Greater flamingos is the largest and has by far the widest distribution.

In India (and in Sewri) we get 2 species of Flamingos – the Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo. While the Greater flamingo are more taller with a black tipped grey beak, whitish eyes and more white in body colour…..the Lesser flamingos are smaller, more pink with dark beaks and red eyes. In Sewri 95 % are lesser flamingos.

12. Are flamingos endangered?

In reality, all flamingo populations have undergone a rapid decline in their populations, since they live in large groups in concentrated numbers in fragile wetland habitats that could easily become polluted, fragmented (divided up into smaller un-usable pieces).

The flamingos worst enemy is man, who destroys the bird's habitat, directly by using the land for other purposes or indirectly by changing the natural processes that occur on that land (water depth, water quality, salinity).

13. Are flamingos safe in Sewri?

Not really…..apart from the poaching (hunting) by locals for food, the flamingos in Sewri are facing a major threat from the proposed Nhava-Sheva sea link that has been given a nod by the centre and will be constructed by Reliance. This proposed sea-link (bridge) will go right from the flamingo bay (Starting from Sewri Darga) upto Nhava-Sheva Port, a distance of about 22 kms.

The construction of this bridge will surely affect the movements of flamingos in Sewri. It may also possible that, because of the disturbance, the flamingos might not visit Sewri at all in future. Not finding enough food in their feeding grounds may adversely affect the breeding of flamingos and their numbers decline.

14. What are the other birds found in Sewri?

Apart from the star attraction i.e. Lesser and Greater flamingos, Sewri also harbors many other species of birds particularly waders (several species that wade in water / intertidal shores for food), egrets, herons, kingfishers, kites etc.

Most of these waders are of different species that include Sandpipers, Stints, Shanks, Plovers, Curlews, Whimbrels etc and majority of these birds are winter migrants coming to sewri from as far as Siberia, Central Europe and the Himalayas. They too start arriving here in October and migrate back to their breeding places in April – May. During the month of April, it is a preety site to watch waders in their breeding plumage, when, not only they look spectacular, but also easy to identify.

Birdwatchers have noted more than 120 species of birds in and around Sewri. Thus Sewri is a major wintering habitat for thousands of birds and its existence is very critical for their survival. Sewri is declared as an IBA (Important Bird Area)



nice pics Adesh. Any fighting shots?

Wanderer said...

hi Adi,

i have recently moved to mumbai and want to see as much as i can in short time i have here. One of them is flemingos. can you tell me if there are any tours or group of birdwatchers making a trip any time soon? i tried going up to fort road by my self but not very sure if i was going in right direction.


Hes Yoga Pi said...

hey man i just spotted these beautiful creatures at the thane creek today. :-) where do these birds migrate from???

RAJJU said...

HEY adesh,
what do the flamingos do at high tide? do they fly off to near by places or take shelter in the mangroves..??

do they have a particular points where the feed or is it random and depends on tidal levels???