The lesser flamingo is the smallest species of flamingo, though it is a tall and large bird by most standards. The species can weigh from 1.2 to 2.7 kg (2.6 to 6.0 lb). The standing height is around 80 to 90 cm (31 to 35 in). The total length (from beak to tail) and wingspan are in the same range of measurements, from 90 to 105 cm (35 to 41 in). Most of the plumage is pinkish white. The clearest difference between this species and the greater flamingo, the only other Old World species of flamingo, is the much more extensive black on the bill. Size is less helpful unless the species are together, since the sexes of each species also differ in height. The lesser flamingo may be the most numerous species of flamingo, with a population that (at its peak) probably numbers up to two million individual birds.
Habitat and Distribution
In Africa, where they are most numerous, the lesser flamingos breed principally on the highly caustic Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. Their other African breeding sites are at Etosha Pan, Sua Pan and Kamfers Dam. The only breeding site in South Africa, situated at Kamfers Dam, is threatened by pollution and encroaching development. Despite being the most numerous species of flamingo, it is classified as near-threatened due to its declining population and the low number of breeding sites, some of which are threatened by human activities.
This species feeds primarily on Spirulina, algae which grow only in very alkaline lakes. Presence of flamingo herds near water bodies is indication of sodic alkaline water which is not suitable for irrigation use. Although blue-green in colour, the algae contain the photosynthetic pigments that give the birds their pink colour. Their deep bill is specialised for filtering tiny food items. The lesser flamingo also feeds on shrimp.
Like all flamingos, they lay a single chalky white egg on a mound they build of mud. Chicks join creches soon after hatching, sometimes numbering over a hundred thousand individuals. The creches are marshalled by a few adult birds who lead them by foot to fresh water, a journey that can reach over 20 miles (32 km).