Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The flamingos are here!

- By Deepa Krishnan

My uncle, A. Krishnan, sent in these photos from his visit to the Sewri mudflats last week. Our pink visitors are here again!

Flamingos are very interesting birds. You know they're not born pink, right? Baby flamingos are a whitish-grey. They turn pink over time because of algae in the food they eat. So this kiddo on the right has some years to go (and lots of eating to do!) before he looks as pretty as that other guy on the left.

They have a funny way of feeding - they eat by holding their bills upside down in the water. See that deep curve on the bill? There's a specially adapted tongue inside the bill that filters tiny food items. In lesser flamingoes, the bill pumps water 20 times a second, while the tongue filters away like crazy!! They need about 60 grams of food a day, so no wonder they feed all the time.

Just in case you were wondering, the flamingo tongue tucked away inside that bill is large, fleshy and has little bristly projections. Yeew? The early Romans thought it quite a delicacy, anyway, and pickled flamingo tongue was on the menu at their parties! I kid you not.

Here are some more birds that have not yet turned fully pink. You can really see the curve of the bill beautifully in this photo. Babies are born without the curved bill, by the way. Strange huh? It takes some weeks for the bills to start curving. Until then, parents feed the chick. Both dad and mom produce a sort of "milk" - well, let's call it milk, even though it is red in colour. Babies store the pigment in their liver, which then gets deposited in their adult feathers as they grow.

You know another interesting thing about flamingo babies? They grow up in creches. Flamingos lay a single egg, on mounds of mud. When the eggs hatch, the chicks join a creche, a sort of group child-care facility which is marshalled by some adults. The adults lead them on foot to fresh water sources, because the chicks can't fly. Mom and Dad come to the creche, find their kid, and do the milk feeding thing. Hah! If only we had that sort of child-care to help Mumbai's stressed out working parents!

Here's a longer range view. These are mature adults, since they're all pink. Flamingos live for 40-50 years, did you know? I found that very surprising, because I always thought birds were short-lived. Goes to show how much I *really* know about birds!

Here's a still longer range photo. Look at the number of birds in the distance! How pretty they must look when they're flying!

There are lots of flamingos at Sewri right now, but there are also many waders and kites and other interesting birds. The best time to see birds is between high tide and low tide, so look up the newspaper and see when the high tide is. If you go 3-4 hours before that, you should have a pretty good shot at spotting them. Or else, you can go just after high tide. If you take the train to Sewri, then the big main road that comes out to the east of the station goes to the Sewri jetty. You can drive there as well, via P D'Mello Road, or the inner docks road. Ashbirder has a pretty good map, if you want one.

So what are you waiting for? Grab a pair of binoculars and head out! It's right in the middle of the city, you don't even have to go outside the urban jungle!!

- Deepa


Aadil said...

Not all flamingos are pink in colour, only the lesser flamingos are pink, the greater flamingos are just white!!! Interesting fact about the tongues and beaks. Planning a trip to Sewri someday soon. I suppose they must be the same flamingos I saw in the Kutch region some time ago since they usually come here to feed and go there to breed!!!

Deepa Krishnan said...

See photos of Greater Flamingos at Andhra Pradesh here:

I was at Lake Nakuru in Kenya a couple of years ago and saw thousands and thousands of them clustered together, greater flamingos as well as lesser flamingos. What a fabulous sight it was.

- Deepa

Anonymous said...

Discovered your blogs after beginning to research Mumbai and Ranthambore for an upcoming visit. Your passion for Mumbai shows: its infected me as I plan for a family trip to Mumbai in December!
Thanks for all the helpful responses I find from you on travel, even outside Mumbai!

Madamecroissant said...

I found your blog yesterday! I'm going to visit Mumbai in couple of weeks and I'm using all kinds of tips and information I found here.Thank you and keep up good work! You ladies just got one more fan!

Aadil said...

Check this out and you will see the difference in the white and pink flamingos. While the greater flamingoes are taller (125-145 cm) and white in colour, the lesser flamingoes stand 80-90 cm in height and are pink.

Anonymous said...

hi.. was nice read about the flamingoes. i am from outside Maharashtra..can you pls tell me where to go exactly to see the flamingoes.. i guess Sewri is a big town, right? thanks.

Amrutaunshu said...

Hi Deepa,

I read your blogs regularly and I must say they are a wonderful read. I also feel proud to be a Mumbaikar and love this city with all its virtues and vices.

The flemingoes site at Sewri is truly mesmerizing given the fact that such an event happens right in the mid of this crowded city. I had also visited it recently and viewing them thru binoculars is a sight one must never miss. I felt very sad to see few of the local visitors throwing all kinds of garbage near the jetty in the mud which is the livlihood for these visitors. I have never seen an animal as destructive as human being!