The flamingo, Bonaire’s national symbol, is technically a shore bird, but its beauty, rarity, and unique presence on the island places the bird in a class by itself.
There are only four places in the world where large numbers of Caribbean Flamingos breed — Bonaire is one of them. You can see allusions in the walls of the pink-painted airport, in the endless flamingo T-shirts, and in the array of flamingo kitch for sale on the streets of Kralendjik, but the birds themselves appear to be entirely absent, carefully hidden on some Bonairean backstage.
This wariness seems to be unnatural: if nature ever dressed a diva, the flamingo is it. The pink cotton candy feathers, the graceful, wavy neck, and the long sinewy legs all seems to cry “look at beautiful me,” but in reality flamingos prefer anything but a spotlight. In fact, the birds are so sensitive to noise and intrusion that the slightest disturbance will cause them to quickly flee. They will never come close to people.
There are two places to see Bonaire’s flamingos. One is at the Pekelmeer Sanctuary to the south, where the birds flock around the salt ponds; the other at Lake Gotomeer, in Washington Slagbaai National Park in the north. The photos shown here were taken at Gotomeer.
At both places, it is important to keep your distance and not disturb the birds. Bonaireans are as protective of their flamingos as they are of their reefs. The best way to get a great photograph is to bring a telephoto lens. On a good day, you can see them gather by the hundreds in a chaotic, undulating pink cloud. The pinkness of their feathers actually comes from the carotene found in their diet of brine shrimp, brine fly pupae, small clams, and other micro-delectables.
Flamingos are social animals, and a minimum of 15 to 20 animals is required before they’ll begin to breed. They mate for life, and what actually causes them to nest and breed is still something of a mystery (though several studies suggest that a good rainfall is highly influential). Once a pair does mate, both the male and the female share equally in the tasks of building a nest, sitting on their single egg for about a month, and feeding the chick. After about three months, the chick will be able make the 90 kilometer flight to Venezuela, a trip the flamingos make when food on Bonaire becomes scarce.