The Andean Flamingos are a rather large bird. They're extremely sociable and gather in flocks of hundreds, sometimes thousands, at feeding lakes in South America. They are filter feeders who seek algae and diatoms in shallow water, usually salty. The alkaline and salt lakes that these birds prefer are found high in the rugged terrain of the Andes at heights of 2,300 to 4,500 meters above sea level. The flocks migrate from place to place in a quest for suitable food, often travelling hundreds of kilometers in a single day.
Only a single egg is laid by each female, and many young flamingos do not survive until adulthood. The Andean flamingo lives for around 45 years in the wild if it doesn’t succumb to hunting or predation.
The Andean flamingo’s decline began with massive collection of eggs from the World War II era through the 1980's. The eggs were used as a food supply by the region’s increasing population, but greatly impacted the flamingos, sending their population into a sharp decline. There was an average population of 100,000 prior to the egg collection era, but this human interference cut the flamingo’s numbers to a third of what they once were. Today, the flamingo’s population may be stable or even slightly increasing. Sadly, the flamingo eggs are still sought after as a local delicacy.
A new threat to the Andean flamingo is borax mining, which occurs heavily in its range. Though borax is largely harmless to humans, it destroys much of the birds’ reproductive capacity and causes growing flamingos to develop deformed skeletons. Bulldozing lake beds destroys food supplies, and mining activity in general disturbs the birds and ruins their habitat.
Various nature reserves and flamingo reserves have been established to protect crucial feeding and breeding grounds for this species. Egg collecting has been successfully reduced by official action, though it still occurs. Efforts are under way to create more protected areas and to educate locals in the ecological value of the Andean Flamingo.