Birding: Kerala welcomes greater flamingo

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Bird watching and photography are creating waves in the tourism sector of Kerala as the arrival of five 'greater flamingos' in Alappuzha shows. Considered a 'prize catch,' greater flamingos create a big impact on the people who sight them by sheer size and beauty.

Greater flamingo, called the 'raja hansam' in Malayalam, has truly majestic looks. It is seen in Africa, coasts of India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Europe. Often migrating in big flocks, the greater flamingo can fly up to 600 km in one night.

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In India, this bird is commonly seen in Kutch, Gujarat, and Mumbai. It also reaches Kerala after flying thousands of km during the months of October-January.

Key facts

The greater flamingo is 1.1 to 1.5 metre tall and weighs 2 kg to 4 kg. It has long legs and neck. The beak is red with a black tip. Eyes are yellow and located on both sides of the head. Even though it has pinkish white colour overall, there is red colour on the wings with black at the ends.

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However, the young ones have an entirely different look – yellowish white colour. The chicks also have yellowish white beaks with a black tip. It is black at the ends of the wings also, while the legs are grey.

The bird mostly feeds on small insects on land and in water and seeds. A single egg is laid in tall mud nests formed at marshy land on the sea shore. The male and female birds take turns to incubate the egg for up to 30 days before it hatches. Till the young one is able to eat by itself, both parents feed it semi-solid food that they regurgitate.

Sightings in Kerala

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This season, the bird was first sighted in Kerala at the 'kole' paddy fields in Thrissur district. This sparked interest among nature photographers in the state and they set on capture the royal bird with the camera.

One photographer, after elaborate enquiries, found that one bird had reached Kadamakudi in Ernakulam district. But when he reached there, found that the bird was entirely covered with mud and would give no good pictures. He kept looking and finally, after two months, learnt that five greater flamingos had arrived at Chennithala paddy field in Alappuzha district. He rushed to Mannar, but the birds had left the area. Not giving up, the photographer searched all the nearby paddy fields and soon located the majestic species – four large birds along with a small one. They were feeding.

There were several other birds also in the paddy field, but when the photographer entered the field to click photos, all the other birds except the greater flamingos flew away. The photographer's task became easy and he snapped pictures to his fill.

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If left undisturbed, the greater flamingo puts on many interesting gestures.

During this season, the greater flamingo make visits to Thattekkad, Kannur and Kozhikode beach also in Kerala, apart from Thrissur and Alappuzha.

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