You don’t need to be an avid birdwatcher to recognize a flamingo. This tropical flier’s long spindly legs, S-shaped neck and bright pink color set it apart from the rest of the feathered animal kingdom. The flamingo’s appearance also makes it one of the most fascinating birds in the world.
There are six species of flamingos; one of them is the Caribbean flamingo, also called the West Indian, American or Rosey flamingo. This species lives in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, the northernmost tip of South America, the Galapagos Islands, and West Indian islands of the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands and Bonaire. Less than a half-century ago flamingos were nearly hunted to extinction for their colorful feathers, and as food and exotic pets. However, conservation programs have boosted their numbers.
“Sixteen flamingos, which were originally native to the Virgin Islands, were introduced back into Anegada in August 1992 and four more were brought in later that year,” explains Ronald Massicott, an officer with the BVI National Parks Trust. “Today, 250 flamingos live on Anegada.”
It’s the flamingo’s diet and domain that give the bird its cool color. More specifically, brine shrimp, snails and salt marsh fly larvae, found primarily in the salt ponds where flamingos live, as well as microscopic plant matter rich in beta-carotene, give the birds their signature pink shade. It’s no coincidence that the majority of the flamingos in the Bahamas, for example, make their home in the Inagua National Park, which encloses the largest salt water lake in the Commonwealth, Lake Rosa, says Lynn Gape, deputy executive director of the Bahamas National Trust.
WHERE TO SEE FLAMINGOS
The Bahamas: There are over 50,000 flamingos in the Inagua National Park, located on the southern-most Bahamian island of Great Inagua. The 287 square-mile Park, roughly half the size of Great Inagua, is home to the largest breeding colony of West Indian Flamingos in the Western Hemisphere. The best time to visit is from November to June; however, the breeding season when flamingos are en masse is March to May. There is only a commercial dock and no marina facilities, yet there is a small area cruisers can anchor with good holding off Matthew Town. Bahamas air offers scheduled flights to Matthew Town, three times a week. Flight time from Nassau, for example, is 1.5 hours. The Main House, Enrica’s Inn and Gaga’s Nest offer accommodations for overnight stays ashore. There are no taxis and limited vehicle rentals. Visitors must advise the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) of plans to visit and be accompanied by a BNT warden at all times while in the Park. The one-day entry fee is $25 pp.
There are also small populations of flamingos on the nearby islands of Mayaguana, Acklins, Crooked, Cuba and Andros. www.bahamas.com/islands/inagua
British Virgin Islands: The easternmost island of Anegada is where the flamingo population is located. The best viewing is from the bridge a short distance past the roundabout heading towards The Settlement and looking towards Point Peter. It’s possible to see the flamingos here year-round. Cruisers can anchor off Setting Point or Pomato Point, where there are accommodations and restaurants ashore. The dock at Setting Point is chiefly for inter-island ferries. Public ferries make the 15 mile voyage from Virgin Gorda in 50 minutes four days a week. www.bvinpt.org
Bonaire: The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, located on the vast salt plains at the southern tip of the island, is one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed. Visitors can’t go into the sanctuary, but it’s possible to view the birds via binoculars while parked on the nearby road or at Pink Beach.
“There are lots of flamingos around the Lac area (part of the Bonaire National Marine Park) and Goto Lake (to the north of the island within the Washington Slagbaai National Park) where you can get a good look at the birds,” says Anouschka van de Ven, communications coordinator for STINAPA (Stichting Nationale Parken) Bonaire. There are three marinas on the island. Mooring balls are available on a first-come first-serve basis in several locations and a there are a number of anchorages for yachts. The island has an international airport with flights to and from Europe and North America. www.stinapa.org
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.