When Caribbean flamingos move en masse, they make a huge visual impact. And an aural one too, with excited honking cries that signal the imminent ascent, then the beating of powerful wings nearly 2m wide as the birds fly between breeding, feeding and sleeping sites. Adults stay within Yucatán, but juveniles can venture beyond Mexico to the USA, the Bahamas, Cuba and the Caiman Islands.
Raccoons, jaguars and crocodiles pose a threat to flamingos, but safety is found in numbers. While some have their heads down to feed, others keep a beady eye out for lurking predators. Like whales, these birds are filter-feeders, and contained within their impressive-looking, aquiline beaks is a syringe-like mechanism that sucks up water and strains out food such as algae and small crustaceans.
“There are a ton of things that are not known about flamingos, but we believe they have a different breeding partner each year,” says Claudio. Courtship and mating happens at scale, with synchronised hormone release ensuring that breeding and nesting occurs at the same time across the colony.
An aerial view of Ría Lagartos helps us appreciate the scale of this flamingo festival. Designated a UNESCO site, the 60,348ha reserve, encompassing wetlands, marshes and a lagoon, is the most important nesting location of the Caribbean flamingo. If you look closely, you can see small circles, which are some of the roughly 20,000 mounded mud nests they return to each year. “They need a very specific type of mud, quantity of water and a low risk of flooding,” says Claudio. “Plus, an islet in the middle of the lagoon protects them from predators.”
Slowly does it
Flamingos are very sensitive to human disturbance, so Claudio could only approach them crawling on all fours, under a camo throw-over sheet and the cover of darkness. “As a photographer, you have to be very, very careful not to incite panic, because if one bird flies, the whole colony can go, and the birds can break their legs or abandon their nests forever,” he says.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Roads take their toll
New study identifies the mammal populations most likely to be driven to extinction by traffic
How big (or small) could animals get?
WITH EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST JV CHAMARY
GOOD AS GOLD
The golden eagle has long been in decline in the UK. A new project is helping this magnificent raptor to spread its wings once again.
Solar power permeates the stormiest of winter weather
The creative output of orangutans reveals a sensitivity to their environment
“I’m A Celebrity has seen 21 seasons of dropping, crushing, chasing and kicking hapless creatures”
“There is a drive to make the world of nature a place for everyone”
The conservation industry is the second-least diverse sector in the UK, but the times are changing...
Sir David Attenborough's GREEN PLANET
Without trees and flowers, there is no life. The Green Planet, a new BBC series presented by Sir David Attenborough, takes us behind the branches and into the undergrowth.
THE RACE TO SAVE A WOLF
The Ethiopian wolf is the world’s rarest canid, pushed to the edge by disease and habitat loss. Yet ongoing vaccination is giving the species a second chance.
In early spring, spotting a mountain hare is easier than expected
My mom’s 80th-birthday tattoo is just the latest example of her wild newfound independence
KERRY MANOLAS ORDERED THE FIRST XJ220 IN AUSTRALIA. IAN CUMMINS PICKED IT UP WITH HIM.
Cubans Rose Up. America Should Step Up.
After thousands of Cubans poured into the streets in early July to protest the island nation’s Communist government, President Joe Biden said America “stands firmly” with the people of Cuba.
FOLLOWING PROTESTS, CUBA LAYS OUT LAWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA USE
Cuba’s government spelled out its laws against using social media or the internet to stir up protests or insult the state — and offered people a form to report offenders.
VANISHING CUBA: NEW PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK
A STUNNING COLLECTION OF OVER 270 PHOTOGRAPHS AND STORIES HIGHLIGHTING MICHAEL'S 24 TRIPS TO CUBA.
HE'S NO FIXER-UPPER!
All Hands On Deck! July 28
Cuba Bets Big on Its Own Vaccines
If they prove effective, locally made drugs could be an economic lifeline for the island
S-S- CARS: FIRST JAGUAR SALOON
WHEN PERTH'S GRANT PIERCE BOUGHT A 1937 1.5 LITRE S.S. JAGUAR IN THE UK HE DIDN'T FULLY APPRECIATE HOW SPECIAL IT WAS. HE SAYS HE DIDN'T WANT TO FALL IN LOVE WITH IT - BUT IS NOW SMITTEN WITH PERHAPS THE FINEST ORIGINAL EXAMPLE IN THE WORLD.
How to age, store and collect the world's finest cigars
JC Deep Dive: Why Jets said, ‘No Tank You'
Those who frequent social media are likely aware that some Jets fans were livid at the team for beating the Los Angeles Rams, Dec. 10, greatly hurting their chances at landing the first pick in the draft, which likely will be Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.