Greater flamingo at Fuente de Piedra drought and abuse of water

Greater Flamingo Pheonicopterus ruber (Flamenco común)

Anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed the large flocks of Greater Flamingo at Fuente de Piedra cannot have failed to have been left with a lasting impression of wonder. Their pale colour suddenly transformed when outstretched wings reveal a deep and striking pink contrasting with their pale body colour and emphasised by black wing tips. Of course their size and unique shape make them instantly recognisable to almost all of us.

Greater Flamingo first colonised Fuente de Piedra back in 1963 and has since made the area a star attraction for many visitors.

With a maximum count of some 34,000 birds being present in the past then it is not surprising why many people want to make this area a ‘must see’ site during their stay in Andalusia.

Since the first breeding in 1963 the lake and its attraction to wildlife in general has become increasing important to the local economy with many thousands of visitors coming specifically to see Flamingos. In fact, during recent times, the area has also become the most important breeding area in Spain for Flamingos.

greater_flamingoAnd so it is incredible that the lake should have suffered during the last few years from abuse both by local agriculture, taking water from the main streams feeding the lake, and most recently lethal pollution from a local factory! In all cases these abuses have taken no account of the importance of the lake to the local economy and its people or the areas important wildlife.

It is sad to report that the numbers of Flamingos present at Fuente de Piedra are now down to 4 individuals and that non-breeding has been drastically affected by abuses of self interest and the lack of managed water resources. Of course the economics of local agriculture and industry are an important consideration for the area, but the revenues generated by the attraction of the lake and the distribution of wealth this creates for the general population of Fuente de Piedra is by far a greater, or should be, consideration! It’s a classic example of the few benefiting at the expensive of the many. I hope that in the future, more efficient management of water resources and better policing of both water supply and quality will bring back those Flamingos who have deserted the area for 2008.

The Greater Flamingo has the widest distribution of all the Flamingos occurring in the western Mediterranean and West Africa as far as Senegal and Guinea Bissau. It also occurs in the eastern Mediterranean and eastwards to Iran, southern Russia and to India and Sri Lanka. The world population, as far as is known, is around 750,000. Adult birds are thought to pair for life and can remain faithful to their preferred breeding site, even in years when conditions do not favour breeding. In our region eggs are normally laid during late April or May and very rarely the normal clutch of one egg can be supplemented and two eggs can be laid. Incubation can take between 27 and 36 days. The young are fledged over a period than can take up to 100 days. At least some young remain in the crèche until day 100!

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