Bonaire Flamingo Sanctuary

The Dutch Caribbean Island of Bonaire is a mass of coral, limestone, and sand floating some 50 miles off of the north coast of Venezuela. On the southern end of the island is Pekelmeer. Translated from Dutch, pekelmeer means brine lake, salt lake, or saltwater lake. And that is exactly what you will find here on this little island administered by the Netherlands. Pekelmeeer is made up of a shallow hypersaline lagoon, beaches, saltpans, dikes, and reefs that divide the lagoon from the Caribbean Sea.

If you wish to visit this tiny Caribbean island, please pay online the Bonaire Tourism Tax. This tax has been established in the summer of 2022 the funds of wich will be allocated to support the local business and culture,

On this sparsely vegetated piece of marine land is to be found an integral nesting colony of Caribbean flamingos. I mean really integral. How so? Because there are only four areas in the world where flamingos breed, and Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of them. As it stands at present, the sanctuary on the vast salt pans hosts and affords life to more than ten thousand of these amazing birds.

The flamingo population was at one time as low as 1500. As a result of concerted conservation efforts, the salt flats and salinas or salty lakes all about Bonaire now provide homes for between 35- and 40 thousand Caribbean flamingos. The island is in fact a veritable birder’s paradise, boasting two hundred bird species, thanks to the intelligent environmental laws that protect land and marine life.

An unexpected vision for tourists venturing out to get a look at the flamingos in their natural habitat is that the waters seem to take on the same hue as the birds! Pink as pink can be against the white backdrop of the salt flats. But there is actually no tie-up between the color of the birds and the color of the water.

The pools are pink simply because of the plentiful teeny, little rosy brine shrimp that call them home. Actually, this is not wholly accurate. The pools may not get their color from the birds, but the plumage of the birds does absolutely result from the shrimp and micro-organisms inasmuch as coloring is concerned.

The Caribbean flamingo has the aforementioned pink salt shrimps and the micro-organisms in the water to thank for their very pink plumage and coloring.

The shrimp and the micro-organisms are turned pink by the bacteria, algae, and beta-carotene that happily thrives in these waters. Since the shrimp make up a good proportion of the flamingos’ diet, these organisms are responsible for the Caribbean flamingo being recognized as the most colorful in the world out of all the species of flamingo.

Because visitors may not actually enter the sanctuary – for obvious reasons (it is after all a sanctuary) – binoculars and long telephoto-lens photographic paraphernalia are suggested to get a decent look at the flamingos from the Pink Beach close by or the abutting roadside.

Flamingoes can breed as often as three times a year. Bonaire flamingos enjoy their breeding season between January and July which is coincidentally the best time for viewing. After the breeding season, some birds migrate to Venezuela where they feed for the rest of the year while others remain in Bonaire. Courtship kicks off with some interesting displays and elaborate dancing.

This includes the birds lifting their heads in a very showy way, moving them very definitely from side to side.

Following a successful courtship, the pairs will build a muddy nest in a tower formation some 16 inches or 40 cm in diameter.

Nests are spaced to afford the couples some measure of privacy in the raising of the single chick that will result from this courtship. After four weeks in the egg, the chick hatches and will stay in the nest for six to eight days. It then goes to flamingo daycare along with all the other juveniles all of whom can run and swim, but not yet fly.

Of all the American flamingos, the Bonaire flamingos are the largest. Adults measure between 47 and 57 inches or 120 to 15 cm tall, the males weighing 6.2 pounds or 2.8 kg on average, and the females 4.9 pounds or 2.2 kg. The life expectancy is about forty years.

The Bonaire Flamingo Sanctuary incorporates a section of the fringing reefs of Bonaire, among the most biodiverse reefs around. This offers refuge to a good many threatened species of fish, coral, and marine birds. The Flamingo Sanctuary is also the preferred nesting area for the endangered loggerhead turtle and the critically endangered hawksbill turtle.

As far as the flamingos go, these local pink birds use to be found across the West Indies and along the coast of South America to Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. They were hunted for both their feathers and their meat which saw the flocks either die out or relocate to survive.

Their numbers were drastically reduced because the flamingo eggs were collected for eating, therefore failing to hatch into young. The flamingos were also deterred by the noise of boats and planes in the area for many years.

All of this is now in the past, thanks to the conservation measures very effectively put in place on Bonaire. Flamingoes thrive on the island where their futures look about as bright as their pretty plumage.