- C. P. Arjun, Malabar Awareness and Rescue Center for Wildlife, Kannur, Kerala, India; National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.
- R. Roshnath, Malabar Awareness and Rescue Center for Wildlife, Kannur, Kerala, India; Department of Animal Science, School of Biological Sciences, RT Campus, Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod, Kerala, India. E-mail: [email protected]
Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus are the most widespread of the six species of the Flamingo family (Phoenicopteridae); they are native to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and their breeding migration extend towards Kazakhstan, and Europe too (Birdlife International 2016). In India they breed in the Greater Rann of Kachchh (Ali & Ripley 1987; Rasmussen & Anderton 2012), and are widespread winter visitor in the plains (Grimmettet al. 2011). Flamingos roost, andnest, in the undisturbed shallow regions of inland wetlands, tidalmudflats, lagoons, estuaries, lakes, large alkaline lakes, open shores, and salt pans (Ramesh & Ramachandran 2005). Only a few studies have recorded the distribution and migration of Greater Flamingos in India (Rao 1983; Sugathan 1983; Singh 1987; Ramesh & Ramachandran 2005), and in Kerala there have been no studies till date. Hence, this article aims to demonstrate the migrant nature of flamingos in Kerala.
The occurrence data of the Greater Flamingo, in Kerala, were collected from eBird (www.ebird.org), research articles, news reports, and social media platforms like the Facebook group, Birdwatchers of Kerala, and the Yahoo! Group, Kerala birder. Allthe sightings that had not been uploaded into eBird were first uploaded. Then the data were downloaded, which included details like date, location, and abundance. These data were compiled and analysed to understand the pattern of Flamingo visits into Kerala. Multiple observations from the same locations,within a season, were considered as a single sighting, as it is more likely to be the same flock of birds, and wherever possible,images uploaded by birders were crosschecked.
The species was not reported from the state until 1991 (Ali1969; Neelakantan et al.1993), when D. N. Mathew reported an unknown number on 04 February 1991 from the Purathur Estuary of Bharathapuzha River, Malappuram District (Sashikumar et al. 2011). Subsequently others birders also recorded these fivebirds, in the same month, and at the same location (Neelakantanet al. 1993; Sashikumar et al. 2011). On 21 December 1991, C. Sashikumar spotted a single bird in the Kattampally wetlands of Kannur District. In 1993, Manoj V. Nair reported a single bird from Veli-Akkulam in Thiruvananthapuram District; on 03 December 1993, Sathyan Meppayur saw an individual at the Kadalundy Estuary in Kozhikode District. In December 1995, P. K. Ravindran reported six birds from the Purthaur Estuary in Malappuram District (Sashikumaret al. 2011).
In the twenty-first century, there were more sightings from all over the state (Table 1). The highest number of birds was sighted in 2016 at Alappuzha (N=10, 01 adult and 09 immature birds). Most of the sightings were recorded from the wetlands ofcentral Kerala (Malappuram, Thrissur, Ernakulum, and Kottayam;N=8), followed by northern Kerala (Kannur and Kozhikode; N=5, Fig. 1).
Greater Flamingos prefer coastal wetlands, but willingly explore all types of wetlands (Tere 2005). Similarly, in Kerala, birds preferred saline and brackish wetlands (N=11) as compared to freshwater wetlands (N=7; mainly fresh-water portions of Kole),though all of these are coastal wetlands in nature, lying below the mean sea level.
Greater Flamingos are regular winter visitors, in large numbers,to the south-eastern coasts of India, presumably migrating from Gujarat over peninsular India (Nagarajan & Thiyagesan 1996; Balachandran 2006; Balachandran 2012). They were thought to be rare winter visitors in Kerala (Sashikumaret al. 2011), whichthe present summary agrees with. In Kerala, these birds were reported throughout the year, but the maximum numbers of sightings were in September–November,and January–February (Fig. 2), which demonstrates both autumn passage, and a wintering predilection. The larval delivery in coastal habitats, with the effect of chlorophyll production, was reported highest in September– October, and lowest in June– July (Navarrete et al. 2005). Phytoplankton and larvae are a rich source of food for benthic fauna, which form a major part of a Flamingo’s diet (Ramesh & Ramachandran 2005). Since the data on age classes of Flamingos sighted in Kerala were unavailable to us—from the photographs that were uploaded in eBird , and newspaper reports, and Facebook —we concluded that most of the birds that had visited the state were either juveniles or sub-adults. The strong monsoon winds from the Bay of Bengal, towards southern peninsular India (Pal et al. 2017), could be a reason for disorienting young birds during their migration to the eastern coast, making them straggle to the coasts of Kerala.
The number of Flamingo sightings, post 2010, had increased,which may be due to an increase in number of birders in southern India. The south-eastern coasts are the main wintering areas of the Greater Flamingos, but when spotted in Kerala, these birds should be considered winter stragglers, or mainly autumnal passage migrants.
We are grateful to all the bird watchers who contributing their observation in eBird and Bird watchers of Kerala (Facebook Group). We express our sincere gratitude PraveenJ., Sandeep Das and S Prasanth Narayanan for their suggestions and reviewing the manuscript. We also thank Bijumon KE and Prasoon Kiran for their photographs. Were trieved relevant literature from the online ‘Bibliography of South Asian Ornithology’ (Pittie 2017).
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