Well I find it amazing! As not only are they a large bird but they don’t soar. Their flight involves them beating their wings continuously apart from when they glide as they come into land. So it is quite extraordinary and also rather strange that they will take a few moments to preen. The definitive Greater Flamingo book also finds it rather odd but as there has been no research it has no explanation.
Nearly all of my photographs of flamingos in flight, including most if not all of these, were after they had been disturbed. Something which you may recall from an April post annoys me hugely! The upside of course is you end up with glorious photographs of them flying, the downside though (apart from the distress it cause the birds) is that I have none of an in-flight preen. At least I thought that was the case until I was going through my 300 plus photographs of flamingos. I don’t have any of a skein when I would expect preening to take place but I do have this marvellous one of a group recently disturbed which has one flamingo either about to preen or has just finished preening its wings.
Now my wonderful book on the Greater Flamingo does as you know from previous posts tell you an awful lot about the behaviours, biology and research of flamingos, even if it can’t explain the preening mid flight. Much of the book is way over my head but I was fascinated to read that once in level flight, flamingos keep their heads on a fixed plane by moving their neck in a snaking movement. If they didn’t their heads would bob up and down as their bodies rise on the downward wingbeat and fall on an upward.
They fly, when in migration, at around 55km/h, flying higher over landmass than they do over water. Most skeins consist of 20 to 60 birds (either all adults or a mixture of adults and juveniles) but flocks in the hundreds have been observed. Juveniles rarely fly long distance on their own, unlike the incredible swallows whose adults disappear off to Africa weeks before the youngsters. You will though occasionally see a small group of juveniles flying short distances together as seen below. I can tell they are juveniles by their colour and size.