” HASAR” returned to nest this spring on an islet in the King’s pond, in the salt marshes of Aigues-Mortes. “AAR” is a male pink flamingo of about 2 meters, 4.5 kg and 1.85 m wingspan. On its left paw, the ring mentioning the 3 letters that have identified it since its birth in 1977. That year, 531 chicks had been fitted with a plastic ring with an alphanumeric code before their flight, during the first major campaign ringing carried out by the Tour du Valat, a research institute for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands.
“Twenty-eight of them were observed again this year, all in the Camargue,” rejoices Arnaud Béchet, research director at the Tour du Valat. “AAR has been seen in the Camargue almost every year since 1982, the year of its first breeding,” adds the researcher. Although no eggs or chicks have yet occupied its nest this year, AAR has been accepted as a breeder by a female. At 45! A record for a wild flamingo.
Nearly 11,000 pairs
On this expanse of brackish water of more than 5,000 meters in the heart of the Gard Camargue, each year an average of 11,000 pairs come to reproduce, out of sight – except those of ornithologists. Because the reproduction of waders is spectacular, but fragile. “The presence of terrestrial or aerial predators, such as foxes or yellow-legged gulls, ferocious consumers of eggs and chicks, or the passage of a microlight or a drone can lead to a total failure of the colony. Arnaud Béchet also recalls the impact of weather conditions: “High water levels in ponds after heavy winter rains attract a greater number of breeding pairs, but too much rain during incubation can drown the eggs birds that have not built a high enough nest. »
The pink flamingos, real “mascots” of the Camargue, were an endangered and totally unknown species before the launch of these annual ringing campaigns. “With more than 60,000 individuals listed in 45 years, our database is the only one of its kind in the world concerning waterbirds, and it is one of the longest monitoring in the world on birds”, says Jean Jalbert, director of the Tour du Valat. “During the first bandings, we didn’t know much about flamingos. They were present all year round, especially in the summer, but had no protected habitat. »
By giving a “boost to nature”, researchers and volunteers have regularly set up islets and rebuilt nests, first on the grounds of the Midi salt marshes, then on areas co-managed by the Camargue Regional Nature Park, the National Society for the Protection of Nature and the Tour du Valat. These privileged conditions made it possible to collect and compare valuable data, shared today with an international network for the study and conservation of flamingos. “They allowed us to make discoveries about their demography: great longevity, only one chick per year, significant dispersion between different colonies.
Their morphological and behavioral adaptations are also very original. The couples are reformed each year, and the breeding of the young takes place in a crèche! Indeed, before their flight, at the age of 80 days, the chicks group together to escape the aggressiveness of the other parents, then leave to frolic in the water. Their parents then fly 150 kilometers around to look for food, and recognize their offspring by their cries.
READ ALSO“It’s a front line of climate change”: the Camargue threatened by a highway?
The species, considered “threatened” in the 1960s, is now in “good conservation status”. But nothing is certain. “Climate change, the threat of erosion and rising sea levels could jeopardize these conservation efforts”, reminds the director of the Tour du Valat.
If “AAR” does not have a chick this year, Arnaud Béchet and his teams have good hopes of seeing him nest again next year. “The record for longevity among flamingos is held by an individual from the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, who died at the age of 83. Even if the living conditions in nature are certainly less peaceful than in a zoo! »
* To sponsor a flamingo and contribute to the research and protection of this species and the wetlands it frequents, in particular by buying equipment, and entrusting it to nature protection NGOs who lack resources in North Africa , West and Middle East: www.monflamant.com