Of the three flamingo species that inhabit northern Chile, the James’s flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) is the smallest, weighing just four and a half pounds and standing three feet at adulthood. Also called the Puna flamingo, it is a relative of the Andean flamingo but lives in a more limited range. The bird is light pink with vivid red streaks on its neck and back. In some positions, the bird’s black flight feathers may be seen in back. Visitors on Chile tours will most easily be able to recognize the species from its bright reddish orange legs, red around the eye that yellows with age, and bright yellow, black-tipped bill.
Like the Andean flamingo, the James’s flamingo eats primarily algae. The species finds its food sources on the altiplano of western Bolivia and southern Peru as well as in northwestern Argentina and northeastern Chile. One colony lives at Salar de Tara in a small segment of the National Flamingo Reserve near San Pedro de Atacama, a popular desert destination for visitors on Chile tours.
The species breeds from December to February though not necessarily every year. Breeding sites are located in several places in Argentina. In Bolivia, they breed at Laguna Khara in the Uyuni salar, the Laguna Colorado National Wildlife Sanctuary of the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Wildlife National Reserve in southwest Bolivia and on the Bolivian side of Mt. Licancabur, shared with Chile, popular excursion for people who take Chile tours to the Atacama Desert. The species’ most important breeding site in Chile is the Salar de Surire, a National Monument south of Lauca National Park on the border with Bolivia.
The species was named for an Englishman, Harry Berkeley James. James moved to northern Chile as a young man, working in business and spending his spare time collecting and purchasing bird specimens. When James eventually returned to England, in 1885 he paid a naturalist to conduct a Chile expedition to catalog wildlife species. A new species discovered during the trip was a small flamingo, forever after called James’s. Over the next half century, populations of the bird declined dramatically until by the 1920s the species was believed to have gone extinct. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the little flamingo was found living among Andean and Chilean flamingos in Laguna Colorado. Today the population of James’s flamingos totals over 100,000. Its conservation status is considered near-threatened because the species’ worldwide population appears to have declined in recent years.
Visitors who travel to Chile with Southern Explorations will be able to see James’s flamingos if they include the four-day San Pedro de Atacama tour extension among their Chile tours.