(Photo credit: Justin Peter)
One look at these pinkish birds above and one might think one were in Africa. But this isn’t Africa – it is India. India is home to two flamingo species, the Greater Flamingo, and the Lesser Flamingo.

Photo on the left: the Greater Flamingo (Credit: Justin Peter)
Photo on the right: Lesser Flamingos (Credit: Suketu Purohit)
It is notably the second one – the Lesser Flamingo, seen most frequently on television documentaries on Africa – that finds a surprising stronghold in western India. In fact, this region is the only place in Asia where they breed, and for good reason. It is here that a vast and flat, low-lying area called the Rann of Kutch is found. During the monsoon season (during North America’s summer), large swaths are inundated, forming a huge brackish water lake as saltwater from the nearby ocean is able to invade and mix with the accumulating rainwater. These shallow brackish waters are a perfect breeding habitat for these birds. As the waters recede during the dry season, the area gradually becomes an extensive salt pan, and adult flamingos and their fledged young concentrate in the shrinking areas of water within. Some birds will depart and overwinter along the west coast of India down to Mumbai and beyond, but many remain, and the effect they create during their flights over the flats can be dramatic.

During our last India’s Great Northwest tour, we had a chance to witness a particularly nice display as we parked on the flats and surveyed the area. There was a flurry of birds in the distance, ebbing and flowing over the salt flats. We fixed on the flock but were for a time at pains to identify them, till the flock stretched out and their long necks and legs betrayed their identity. At surprising speed, the phalanx of flamingos came around towards us and overhead, and we could hear their voices and wingbeats.
The flock of Lesser Flamingos making a pass overhead. Turn on your sound to hear their wingbeats and vocalizations.

The flight of flamingos can be arresting. (Photo credit: Justin Peter)
Fascinating tidbit: Genetic studies of Lesser Flamingos in Africa and India confirm that the birds are well capable of making the flight between Kenya and India. Despite their apparent isolation of the two populations, perhaps 2-3 birds per generation “re-settle” from one area to the other (and vice-versa) to breed, ensuring, genetic exchange between the two populations!

We’re thrilled to be heading back to the Rann of Kutch during our tour to India in February 2024with Chris Earleyat the helm. We should see flamingos and so much else in this amazing wildlife destination!