A flamboyance of lesser flamingos have arrived at Chennai’s Pulicat

After a six-year absence, the lesser flamingos, resplendent with deep red legs and bills, have finally found their way back to Pulicat lake

April 26, 2023 04:05 pm | Updated April 27, 2023 11:01 am IST

A flock of lesser flamingos take flight

A flock of lesser flamingos take flight | Photo Credit: KVRK Thirunaranan

Silent as night, amongst the disquiet of large flocks of greater flamingos an old acquaintance returns to the trembling, grey waters of Pulicat lake. The lesser flamingo is tall, with slender red legs and pink plumage .

Aflame with pink poise, a large body and small head, the bird’s presence at Pulicat was last documented in 2017 says KVRK Thirunaranan, founder of The Nature Trust Wildlife Conservation.  The lesser flamingo is the smallest flamingo in the world with dark red colour bills.

The prawn-rich waters of Pulicat lake attract flamingos that also feed on algae. . Thirunaranan says, “The lesser flamingo is a rare migratory bird from the sub-Saharan region in Africa. Greater flamingos are common; thousands come in every year. While the greater flamingo is pale pink in colour, the lesser flamingo has a distinctly dark red colour. This time 17 to 18 of them have arrived in Pulicat.”

The lesser flamingos keep to themselves and enjoy quietude

The lesser flamingos keep to themselves and enjoy quietude | Photo Credit: KVRK Thirunaranan

Pulicat lake is a blank canvas that draws migratory birds from Australia, Sri Lanka, Siberia and the sub Saharan regions. The east side, against the backdrop of orange lit dawn, is frequented by birds like the Caspian tern, plover, Indian skimmer and the sandpiper. The western side is billeted by Pulicat’s summer time passengers in pink who remain in the region from March to July. 

L Frankline, a local fisherman and secretary of Pulicat Lake Fishermen Boating Association says that the flamingos that come to Pulicat inhabit the low-lying areas of the lake which are alkaline or saline. The birds do not hatch their eggs in the region; but fly back to either Siberia or Sahara once summer is over.

Frankline and his father Luke, who are fishermen from the region have been providing boat rides to wildlife photographers and tourists who are keen to observe birds here, for 50 years now..  

“We use regular fishing boats. For tourists, a two-hour boat ride with life jackets costs ₹1,800. We charge ₹2,000 for wildlife photographers,” says Frankline.

Discouragingly,the lakes have seen an overall decline in the number of flamingos in 2023. In the past, over 60,000 flamingos used to flock the region each year. “This year, we have barely seen about 2,000 flamingos in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh over the last two weeks, ”  says Thirunaranan.

The reason for the stark decline in numbers is manifold and warrants scientific study, he says. Thirunaranan believes that the apparent reasons could be due to the slight showers brought by the North-East monsoon. A paucity of rain does not allow prawn hatchlings to grow.

Secondly, the prawn rich waters are an ideal fishing spot for commercial fishermen. Many agricultural families have also taken to fishing – leading to the over-exploitation of the natural habitat. 

As summer peaks, Pulicat is a theatre of birdsong , chatter and vibrance. Amidst a worrying decline in the number of flamingos, what emerges as a glimmer of hope is the return of the lesser flamingo that walks in slender beauty and quiet grace.

Where can you go bird watching?
Contact Pulicat Boating & Bird Sanctuary Photography Sightseeing Tour, Canal Street, Pulicat at 9786840943 or Ilayaraja S at 07373496615
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