Fortunate indeed are travelers who see a colony of flamingos take flight during their travel to Chile. They will most likely to have this opportunity if their Chile tours take them to San Pedro de Atacama, on the eastern side of the desert where a large reserve protects them in their habitat of saline lakes and marshes. Visitors who travel to the Atacama during their Chile tours may encounter one of three species, the James, the Andean or the Chilean flamingo.
Flamingos are one of the world’s largest wading birds and live in colonies numbering into the thousands. For visitors on Chile tours, the flamboyant flamingo is made a more beautiful spectacle by residing in so monochromatic a landscape. And the most exciting part of flamingo-watching, the flock’s dramatic take-offs and landings, take place against a clear blue, desert sky. Flamingos can fly at speeds of over thirty miles an hour.
You are what you eat. This is particularly so of flamingos, deriving their hues from protein contained in their diet, skimmed from shallow, brackish water. The shape of the species’ bills allows them to filter out the water and mud they unintentionally take in along with the nutrients of the shallow waters where they feed. Though flamingos do not migrate per se, they move to lower elevations during seasons when breeding is not occurring or to find food when their usual high-elevation locations freeze over. Flamingos honk.
To choose a mate, flamingos perform a head-swinging, fast walking, seemingly choreographed set of maneuvers as a group before pairing off. Humans call this courtship dance “the wedding march.” Visitors on Chile tours may not witness the ritual because flamingos depart for more private surroundings to mate. Most dance historians will tell you that any resemblance between the movements of the flamenco and those of the flamingo are coincidental. And why do flamingos choose to stand on one leg for hours at a time?—perhaps to keep one foot dry, maybe to stay warm, possibly to give the heart a rest or perhaps to stay half awake at night. Scientists aren’t sure.
In locations close to each other, the mates build their tall, large nests together, using mud and rocks to protect the one egg the female lays. Eggs hatch in about a month. Newborns are fed a milk substance produced in the digestive tracts of both male and female flamingos. Like penguins, baby flamingos spend their youth in protected crèches, surrounded by the flock. The flamingo species of Chile rarely mate in captivity, perhaps because zoo conditions are so different from those in the wild where colonies may number into the thousands. The flamingos of Chile live forty to fifty years or more.
People wishing to see flamingos during their Chile tours with Southern Explorations may wish to add on our four-day excursion to San Pedro de Atacama, a starkly different adventure to start or end Patagonia tours at the other end of Chile.