All you need to know about flamingos, Mumbai's winter guests

Dec 27, 2016, 09:43 IST | Snigdha Hasan

It’s that time of the year when hundreds of flamingos fly down to Mumbai. Before you grab your binoculars, here’s what you need to know about the Mumbai's winter guests

The birds at the Sewri mudflats
The birds at the Sewri mudflats

For many winter lovers in Mumbai, the slight nip in the air is too mild to offer any gratifying experience of the season. So, they head north to feel the real chill — bonfires, heaters, mufflers, gloves, the works. But Mumbai’s marginal winter also comes as a relief for some. And in what almost seems like the perfect exchange, as the city sees off its avid travellers to the Rann of Kutch, the white sandy expanse of Gujarat sends its winged inhabitants to Mumbai for a gentler climate. Come January and parts of the city will don a layer of pink, as flamingos fly for over 600 km to make Mumbai their home until the first monsoon showers arrive.

Lesser flamingos at Airoli Creek
Lesser flamingos at Airoli Creek

“Flamingos were first spotted in Mumbai back in 2000, and large flocks have since been seen here every winter from 2003. Their time of migration and the number that arrives in the city depends on various factors like the weather and rainfall in Kutch, as well as the suitability of the wintering habitat, level of disturbances, and hazards in the flying route,” says Bilwada Kale, public relations officer, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). A part of the category of birds called waders, flamingos feed on small marine animals and plants in brackish shallow water. This explains why the mudflats of Sewri are their preferred destination in the city.

People soak in the view of the birds at Flamingo Festival organised by the Bombay Natural History Society earlier this year
People soak in the view of the birds at Flamingo Festival organised by the Bombay Natural History Society earlier this year

BNHS will soon be organising a birding trip to the Sewri mudflats once the flamingos arrive in substantial numbers. “The ideal time for watching the flamingos is decided according to the tide timings; two hours after low tide is what’s most preferable,” explains Kale. While BNHS encourages people to carry their own set of binoculars, it makes spotting scopes available at the site for a better, more detailed view of the flamingos. As you peer into the scopes, experts from the organisation tell you all about the birds’ life cycle and migratory routine. Lesser-known migratory birds like smaller waterbirds are also found at the mudflats, and you can learn all about them, too.

On: January 15, 8.30 am meeting point Sewri station
Call: 22821811 
Log on to: bnhs.org 
Cost: Rs 200 for non-members (Rs 100 for members)

Flamingos in India
There are two species of flamingos in India, Phoenicopterus roseus (Greater Flamingo) and Phoeniconaias minor (Lesser Flamingo). The majority of the lesser flamingo population is found in Gujarat. This bird is also found in good numbers in Maharashtra at Sewri and Bhigwan, and Pulicat lake in Andhra Pradesh. The greater flamingo species is more widely distributed; it is found in small pockets right from Okhla Bird Sanctuary of New Delhi to Kanyakumari.

Lessons in zoology
The beaks of flamingos act like sieves, which helps them extract food material from the muddy water. They derive their pink colour from the food they eat, which deepens with age.

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