Are there flamingos in Tanzania?

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Thousands of tall, pink feathered and skinny-legged creatures gracefully standing on the lake shores is a spectacular sight. It is hard to miss flamingos; it is even harder not to be captivated by their striking beauty. And the good thing is there are various regions across Africa where you can see huge flocks of pink flamingos in their natural habitat, especially in East and Southern Africa. So, are there flamingos in Tanzania? Yes, Tanzania is a home to millions of wild pink flamingos. In Tanzania crater lakes and shores of Rift Valley soda lakes are great habitats for these migratory birds. The best places to see flocks of flamingos are in Northern Tanzania including Lake Manyara, Lake Natron, Empakai Crater, and Lake Magadi in Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Ndutu, and Momela Lakes in Arusha National Park. Of the six flamingo species found in the world, only two species live in Africa- the Greater and the Lesser flamingos. And Tanzania is lucky to have them both in their abundance. Usually, both species live and move together in colonies comprising hundreds to thousands of flamingos. The easiest way to tell the two flamingo species apart is from their height.

The Greater Flamingos

The Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is the tallest of all the flamingo species. On average, an adult flamingo height ranges from 1-1.5 meters. They weigh between 1.8-4 kg. Greater flamingo’s wing length is 1.4-1.8 meters.

The Lesser Flamingo

As their name suggests, Lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) are noticeably smaller in size and height compared to Greater flamingos. The height of Lesser flamingo averages 95 -110 cm. Lesser flamingos weigh between 1.1-26 kg. Much like with the rest of Africa, the Lesser flamingos comprise the largest percentage of Tanzania’s flamingo population. Flamingos are said to acquire their beautiful pink color from the Blue – green algae or Spirulina they feed on. The less they feed on these algae, the less pink they are!

 Best Time to See Flamingos in Tanzania

Flamingos can be seen in Tanzania year-round. Regardless of when you visit Tanzania, there are high chances of spotting flamingos around the various soda lakes. However, the peak flamingo season in Tanzania is from November to May. During this time of the year, you can witness enormous flocks of Tanzania’s pink flamingos. Outside of the peak season flamingos are fewer and tend to move to the center of lake. But given that flamingos are migratory birds, they move to and from the various soda lakes in Tanzania during this period. Simply put, the best time to see plenty of flamingos for each location depends on their migratory pattern. So, if you want to see them in their thousands, it is best to keep their migratory pattern in mind.

Flamingo Migratory Patterns:  What Determines Where and When to See Flamingos in Tanzania

As noted earlier, wild flamingos are mainly found in salty and shallow lakes. They thrive well in saline conditions. There are three key factors that dictate on when, where and the number of flamingos you can see in a particular location. These are:

Availability of Food

In the wild, flamingos mainly survive on algae and brine shrimp which are abundant in mineral-rich waters of alkaline lakes. Once the salinity of the lake is interfered with following changes in climate, the habitat becomes hostile for algae growth. As a result, flamingos fly away to other salty lakes in search of pastures.

Fluctuating Lake Water Levels

Salinity of lake waters is dictated by rising and receding of water levels, which in turn affects the survival of algae. When the water levels rise, the salinity in the lake is lost, while as when the water levels fall, the lake becomes acidic. This imbalance leads to the death of algae and shrimps. Loss of algae equals to loss of flamingos.

Breeding Season

During their breeding season, flamingos fly to their breeding grounds. In Tanzania, Lake Natron is the main flamingo breeding ground. So during this season, most of the flamingos move to Lake Natron to mate, nest, hatch and breed. They will stay here for 3-4 months before migrating to Lake Manyara in Tanzania and Lake Bogoria in Kenya, amongst other salty lakes in East Africa.

Best Locations and Peak Times to Find Wild Flamingos in Tanzania

Lake Natron

Lake Natron is the best spot to find plenty of flamingos in Tanzania. Did you know Lake Natron is the largest breeding ground for Lesser flamingos in Africa? Yes, close to three million Lesser flamingos come here to hatch their eggs. The best time of the year to watch flamingos in Lake Natron is between the months of September and December. During the month of September, the flamingos are building their nests and laying eggs. From November to December, the flamingos are hatching. Overall, December is considered the prime time since a lot of chicks are already hatched. Designated as an important Global Ramsar Site, Lake Natron lies in Northern Tanzania. It is a shallow hyper-saline lake measuring 56 kilometers in length and 21 kilometers in width. It is only three meters deep at its deepest point. Its PH can rise up to 10. The Lesser flamingos are well adapted to the high alkaline levels, thanks to the toughened scales on their legs! The extreme alkaline nature of the lake combined with the high temperatures in the area favors the growth of spirulina, which is the main source of food for flamingos. Lake Natron makes a great home for Lesser flamingo’s breeding because of two main reasons. One, the hyper-saline water of the lake acts as a natural barrier that keeps predators such as large cats and birds away from their eggs and chicks. Secondly, Lake Natron has plenty of cyanobacteria which can sustain them throughout the entire breeding season. Depending on the season, water levels and time of the day you visit Lake Natron, its color can range from deep red or pink to orange. The climate around Lake Natron is hot and humid. Temperatures can reach as high as 60ºC. Therefore, the best time to visit Lake Natron is during the early morning hours or late afternoon.

 Lake Manyara

Lake Manyara in Northern Tanzania is known for its vast variety of bird species. Lake Manyara, from which the park gets its name, is saline lake. It is also one of the best locations to see flamingos in the country. It welcomes hundreds of thousands of flamingos from May to July. Located inside the 330km², Lake Manyara is the most remarkable feature in the park. The 230km² salt-water lake is shallow and reaches 3.6 meters at its deepest end. Designated as a Biosphere Reserve (together with the adjacent park) the lake serves as an important water point for both wild plants and animals. It measures 40 kilometers in length and 16 km in width.

 Lake Magadi

In Tanzania, masses of flamingos can also be found in Lake Magadi, locally known as Lake Makat. In the Swahili dialect, the word ‘magadi’ means soda ash, and this caldera lake is indeed salty.  Lake Magadi is seasonal.  Hidden within 610 meters deep at the base of Ngorongoro Crater is Lake Magadi, which serves as a great habitat for the Pink-hued flamingos in their natural habitat. The perfect time to see Ngorongoro Crater flamingos is from November to May. During this time, it is the wet season, which is also considered as Tanzania’s summer and there is a high density of the blue-green algae in the crater. Many flamingos can also be spotted around the swamps, springs and watering holes scattered along the caldera floor. Ngorongoro Crater reaches a peak depth of 610 meters, with a diameter of about 21 kms by 17.5kms and an area of 260km² (excluding the rim). With the rim, Ngorongoro Crater covers an area of 304km². This scenic volcanic caldera lies in the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Northern Tanzania. Besides being famous for its dense flamingo population, Ngorongoro Crater is home to high concentration of big game animals.

 Momella Lakes

Momella Lakes is the collective name given to the small salty lakes scattered inside the Arusha National Park, Tanzania.  The lakes are named after the nearby Momella Village. The shallow alkaline lakes are seven, including Big Momella, Small Momella, El Kekhotoito, Rishateni, Lekandiro, Tulusia and Kusare. Momella Lakes vary in their sizes and depths. With a peak depth of 30m, Big Momella Lake is the deepest, while the Small Momella Lake is the shallowest with a maximum depth of 10m. During the wet season, these saline lakes attract thousands of Lesser and Greater flamingos on their shores. Naturally, the highest population of flamingos tends to camp on the shores of Small Momella Lake, which is not as deep as others.

Empakaai Crater

Crater lakes are excellent habitats for flamingos in Tanzania, with Empakaai being one of them. Located 300m below the Empakaai Crater rim, Empakaai Lake’s soda ash crusted shores attract plenty of flamingos. Usually, flamingos migrate to the banks of Empakaai Lake in search of algae after Lake Makat or Magadi starts to dry up. Lake Empakaai has a depth of 85 meters. Empakaai Crater is part of the larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Though smaller than the famous Ngorongoro Crater, Empakaai is equally beautiful. To access the lake-filled flamingo, you’ll need to hike down the volcanic caldera.

Lake Ndutu

Many people know Serengeti National Park for the Great Wildebeest Migration that happens here, but few people know about its spectacular flamingo migration. Serengeti is an outstanding destination for flamingo sightings. In Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, the best location to find Pink flamingos is on the shores of Lake Ndutu, on the eastern edge of the park. June to November is the prime time of the year to see large flocks of flamingos in Serengeti. Lake Ndutu is a small soda lake with an adequate supply of crustaceans and algae. Both Greater and Lesser flamingos frequent the lake.

Lake Eyasi

Despite being located near the world-famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Eyasi is one of the least visited lakes in Tanzania. Perhaps because it is a seasonal lake that remains dry for the larger part of the year. Covering an area of 1,020km², Lake Eyasi is a hidden gem. This salty lake has a maximum depth of 1m. While most people come to Lake Eyasi to see Hadzabe Bushmen Tribe (an indigenous tribe of hunters and gatherers] who live around the lake, it is also a great place to see flamingos in the wild when the conditions are right. The best time to see flamingos in Lake Eyasi is during the wet season when the lake comes to life.

Are you ready for Tanzania safari?

Wet season is a great time to see flamingos as well as other migratory birds in Tanzania. In particular flamingo watching is at its best during the short rain season in November and December and towards the end of the rainy season in May. Since most prime flamingo destinations are in Tanzania’s Northern Circuit and you can easily combine flamingo viewing with wildlife safaris. Are your interested to see  and experience dozens of flamingos flocking in Tanzania? Feel free to contact us. Our Safari Specialists will help customize the best trip for you.
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