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Marcel, 7 years old, flamingo in Camargue

My life between land and sea

Hello, human! In this article, I, Marcel, a pink flamingo, tell you about my life in the ponds of the Camargue. You’ll find out what I eat, how I reproduce and how I live… It’s sure to make you want to come and watch me.

Camargue, my favourite spot…

Hi, I’m Marcel, I’m 7 years old and I’m a pink flamingo! I was born on the shores of the Mediterranean. Maybe Spain, or perhaps Italy – I’m not sure. I spend most of my time in the South of France, in the Camargue Regional Nature Reserve. Why? First of all because I have good taste! Camargue is magnificent… Flaming sunsets play with the silvery surface of my lake. I can admire proud horses galloping, their manes dancing in the wind. But especially, the many shallow, saltwater lakes in these wetlands overflow with my favourite foods: shrimps, crabs, small shellfish and algae… I have a taste for larvae too! (and before you judge me, let me remind you that humans eat snails). To catch them, I wiggle my webbed feet in the mud and suck water up into my bill, which acts as a strainer. The water in Camargue is very salty, but nature has given me a special gland which allows me to eliminate the salt through my nostrils.

… most of the time

Even though I love Camargue, I don’t live here all year round: it gets too chilly for me in winter. So, every autumn, along with most of my friends, I take a run-up, scoot over the water then soar into the air to head South (not every bird needs a run-up before take-off but I do, because I’m big). I fly all the way over the Mediterranean to North or West Africa. But some of my fellow flamingos don’t mind the cold and simply spend winter in Camargue.

In the gang

Safety in numbers

I’m very sociable and do everything with the gang. Your species, dear human, describes it as having a herd instinct. When my friends and I plunge our heads into the water to fish, one of us always acts as a lookout, surveying the horizon just in case we need to make a quick getaway. We sleep and fly in flocks too. It reassures us and makes us feel safe. Less vulnerable. And even more so when our babies are born: we nest in colonies and raise them together.

How do you make babies?

I don’t have any children myself, even if I’m old enough. It’s very common with us. But I’ve got plenty of time to think about it: flamingos can live up to 40 years! We reproduce between April and July. The males and females alike perform spectacular courtship rituals, which sometimes stir up trouble in the group. I even saw Norbert and Felix fighting one day! After mating, the females lays one egg in a conical nest made with mud and vegetation, on little islands in the lakes. The couple (monogamous I hasten to add), take turns to sit on the egg for the next month. Don’t take it badly human, but equality isn’t a myth where I come from.

I am a star

Humans can’t get enough of me! They buy rubber rings, garlands and t-shirts with me printed on them. It has to be said that with my long legs, characteristic wader walk and, especially, my pink feathers – so rare in the animal world -, I fascinate everyone including researchers. But it’s time to tell you a secret: I haven’t always been pink. When I was born, my feathers were a sort of greyish-white. They gradually got pinker until I was 3 years old, partly due to the carotene contained in my food. What else can I tell you about my childhood? At the time I didn’t know how to fly. I learnt when I was 10 weeks old. And I was very small! Today, I’m one of the biggest birds in our gang: my wingspan measures 165 cm.

Once upon a time, I was nearly extinct

My friends and I are a protected species. It was a close shave though: although today there are around 50,000 of us on the French Mediterranean coast in summer and 40,000 in winter, my ancestors weren’t so lucky. There were less than 10,000 of them in summer and less than 1,000 in winter in the late Sixties! Why? Well, your scientists explain that we flamingos have always appreciated Camargue. But unfortunately, when man progressively began to tame these lands set between the Rhône River and Mediterranean Sea from the mid-19th century, it became difficult for us to reproduce. Luckily, some good people decided to build little artificial islands for us to help us make babies.

Where can you meet me?

And voilà, dear human, thank you for taking the time to listen to my story. I hope it will prompt you to come and meet me for real! We won’t shake hands (I haven’t got any anyway), but you are welcome to watch me from afar, without disturbing my precious, wild existence. Here are some of the spots where you can come and admire me:

  • Réserve naturelle nationale des marais du Vigueirat
  • Marais du Verdier
  • Réserve naturelle nationale de Camargue
  • Mas du pont de Rousty
  • Parc ornithologique du pont de Gau
  • Draille des 5 gorges
  • Digue à la mer
  • Etang du Fangassier
  • Pointe de Beauduc
  • Domaine de la Palissade
  • They du Mazet

See you soon!