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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Bahamas – WWF

This stamp issue, produced in association with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), illustrates the National Bird of the Bahamas.
Long ago, these beautiful birds were found all over the Bahamas, but they were killed for food and sport and taken away on passing ships on which they died. Now they are a protected species and watched over by the Society for the Protection of the Flamingo in The Bahamas through the Bahamas National Trust, a statutory body set up in 1959.
The flamingo has a large breeding colony on Great Inagua. It is one of three major nesting groups found in the West Indian region. The other two being in the Yucatan, Mexico, and Bonaire of the Netherlands Antilles.
Caribbean flamingos, also called the greater flamingo and American flamingo, with their long spindly legs and feet, long and gracefully curved necks and fantastically bright pink feathers, legs and webbed feet are quite unmistakeable. Another unique feature is of course their large hooked bill which is again pink but with a black tip. They grow to a height of around 47 to 55 inches and have a wingspan of around 5 feet. The sexes are similar in appearance although males tend to be larger than the females.
The Caribbean flamingo generally breeds between March and mid-July. The birds court each other with a variety of display behaviours that include head movements, marching, wing displays and vocalisations. These communal displays serve to synchronize hormonal cycling for breeding. They construct large nests out of mud that may reach a foot in height and the female will usually lay one or two eggs which she and the male will take turns to incubate, folding their legs and straddling the nests. The eggs are elongated, chalky white with a blood-red yolk and take about a month to incubate. The young are born agile, able to run and swim; but look nothing like their parents. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation and the pink colouring comes from eating shrimp and other aquatic creatures containing carotenoid pigments which are deposited into the feathers and skin. Without these the flamingo’s feathers would be white. They are fledged in around 75 days.
Chicks reach their adult size in 1½ to 2 years and don’t have their adult plumage for 2 – 4 years. In the wild, the flamingo can typically live for up to 30 years. In captivity this can be longer.
Flamingos are very skittish and will fly away if disturbed. They are very vocal and have numerous calls. Breeding pairs have location calls to help locate each other and alarm calls are used to warn the group of danger.  The usual call is a loud goose-like honking sound. The chicks even make calls while they are in the egg, which their parents learn to recognize.
The flamingo prefers areas with plenty of mud and water such as mudflats, brackish lakes and shallow coastal lagoons where it uses its backwards bending legs to stir up the mud in search of food which comprises seeds, blue-green algae, crustaceans and molluscs. This is then filtered through two rows oflamellae or comb-like bristles that line the inside of its bill and trap the food. It also has bristles on its tongue that help it filter food out of the water. They will feed at any time of the day or night. When an area no longer provides sufficient food the flamingos will migrate to another area at night.