Although Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is a common winter visitor in Cyprus; its smaller relative, Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) had never been recorded in the island until May 8th 2015 at Kukla/Köprü/Kuklia Wetland, North Cyprus. Yet this occurrence is not a surprise if the species distribution is considered.
The Lesser Flamingo is the most abundant flamingo species in the world. However, due to its specialized diet of microscopic alkaline cyanobacteria (‘blue-green algae’), it is totally dependent on a habitat of shallow saline/alkaline lakes, pans, wetlands and coastal areas particularly during breeding season. While it is reported as regular species in 30 countries from West Africa, across sub-Saharan Africa and along the South-west Asian coast to South Asia, it is confirmed to breed regularly only in 4 of these countries at 5 major sites: Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana, Etosha Pan in Namibia, Lake Natron in Tanzania, and Zinzuwada and Purabcheria Salt Pans in India. As a result of habitat destruction and degredation caused by human activities such as soda ash extraction, it is experiencing a rapid decline, so it is listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUNC Redlist.
In contrary to its limited breeding range, the Lesser Flamingo is an itinerant species. It reacts quickly to adverse environmental conditions and can make extensive movements in response. When it is not breeding its flocks constantly move between feeding sites, sites that are often in different countries and several hundred kilometers apart. So it is no wonder that it is a vagrant species for more than 26 countries including Cyprus’ close neighbors Egypt, Israel and Turkey. The Lesser Flamingo was recorded for the first time in Turkey at Konya Ereğli Reedbed in 2006. Since 2009, mostly single individuals are recorded as vagrants in various places across Turkey; especially at Lake Kulu where is observed annually since (unpub. Kerem Ali Boyla).
The first Lesser Flamingo was observed in North Cyprus where a single individual resided for 2 weeks within a flock of Greater Flamingoes. This is a very normal association as it habitually migrates in the company of its greater relative. Considering that Cyprus is on the flyway of the migrating Greater Flamingo populations travelling between Africa and Turkey as well as serving as a wintering ground for them, it is not surprising to see the Lesser Flamingo in Cyprus among them. As a result of awareness generated by the publication of this record, we expect to see it in the island again in near future and urge recorders to use caution when checking and counting flamingo groups.
The sighting is testament to the quality of the site, which forms part the Mesaoria Plain Important Bird Area, designated by Birdlife international in 2014. Furthermore, it will not be surprising to see it at the same site again as at Kukla/Köprü/Kuklia Wetland is homing the first example of a project aiming to organize a wetland as a bird-watching hotspot in North Cyprus. For this purpose, a lot of time and effort was put into directing water to the site through the 2014-2015 winter.