Phoenicopterus minor (Lesser flamingo)

Kleinflamink [Afrikaans]; uNondwebu [Zulu]; Kleine flamingo [Dutch]; Flamant nain [French]; Zwergflamingo [German]; Flamingo-pequeno [Portuguese]

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Phoenicopterus minor (Lesser flamingo) Phoenicopterus minor (Lesser flamingo)
Lesser flamingo, in non-breeding plumage. [photo Gerhard Theron ©] Lesser flamingo, in breeding plumage. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]
Phoenicopterus minor (Lesser flamingo)

Lesser flamingos. [photo Gerhard Theron ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies patches of India, Pakistan, the Arabian Gulf coast and sub-Saharan Africa, isolated along the coast of West Africa but otherwise occurring from Eritrea and Ethiopia through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola to southern Africa. It generally favours open, eutrophic and shallow wetlands, coastal mudflats, salt works and sewage treatment plants; it exclusively breeds on salt pans and saline lakes.

Distribution of Lesser flamingo in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Its movements are fairly well understood. It moves away from pans if they are flooded by a thunderstorm, often heading to the only large and regularly used breeding sites in southern Africa: the Etosha Pan (Namibia) and Sua Pan (Botswana).


It exclusively eats cyanobacteria, such as Anabeana and Naticula halophila, doing most of its foraging in shallow water with its strangely-shaped bill upside-down.  Its large tongue pumps water through the filaments (lamellae) on the edge of its bill, which filter out the cyanobacteria.


  • Monogamous, colonial nester, breeding in roughly circular colonies numbering in the tens of thousands. The entire group performs a spectacular courtship display in which they all march in the same direction while flapping their wings, outstretching their necks and waving their heads from side to side.
  • The nest is a simple, compact mound of mud on a flooded salt pan, with the height varying from roughly 3-40 cm.
  • It usually arrives at the Sua Pan in November and starts to breed soon afterwards, while on the Etosha Pan it arrives breeding in January and February. Breeding often continues in waves until August in both Botswana and Namibia.
  • It lays a single egg, rarely two, which is incubated by both sexes for about 28 days in shifts of roughly 24 hours.
  • The chick eats its own eggshell soon after hatching, leaving the nest at about six days old to join a crèche of chicks of a similar age.Both parents feed the chick with a secretion from their upper digestive tracts, continuing to do so for several months after hatching. Its feathers are fully developed by the time it is 50 days old, fledging 20-40 days later.


Near-threatened globally, due to decreases in populations across Africa, with a decrease of 27% in southern Africa between 1970-1994. The Sua Pan colony is seriously threatened by soda ash mining, which lowers the water level. In Namibia, pesticides, increasing human population and lowering water levels are the major threats. Colonies are highly sensitive to disturbance, in fact smaller ones may be deserted because a plane flew over too low.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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