Moroccan scientists have set up artificial nests as part of a strategy to entice greater flamingos to breed in the North African country for the first time in more than 50 years.
The distinctive long-legged birds obliged, in what is seen as a sign of hope for a species threatened by habitat loss worldwide.
But the importance of the role played by false nests in this reproductive success is now the subject of debate.
Flamingos are the largest species of flamingos. Although these wetland-nesting birds are found in the thousands at 40 sites in Morocco, so far the last time breeding pairs were recorded in the country was in 1957-1968.
These birds nested at Lake Iriki in the southeast Morocco — but then a dam was built on the Draa River feeding the lake and the flamingo breeding site dried up.
Finally this year a team made up of members of the Research Group for the Protection of Birds in Morocco (GREPOM) has confirmed the presence of at least 120 breeding pairs of flamingos in the Khnifiss Lagoon, more than 840 kilometers (520 miles) southwest of Rabat.
GREPOM and Morocco’s National Water and Forests Agency had used a detailed strategy to encourage flamingos to reproduce, involving the construction of artificial nests at Khnifissand at Sebkha Bou Areg, a lagoon to the northeast.
But the lead author of a recent report on the colony says the birds, known for their carotenoid-tinged pale pink feathers they get by eating algae, molluscs and other invertebrates, rejected the fake nests.
Mohamed Radi, a professor of biology at the Cadi Ayyad University of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Marrakech who is also coordinator of the GREPOM project, told RFI that the flamingos have chosen an area to nest near the southern part of the lagoon.
“It’s a colony that the birds themselves set up in Sebkha Tazgha…far from where the artificial nesting platforms were built.”
Paul Rose, co-chair of the Flamingo Specialist Group, which is part of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN‘s) Species Survival Commission, confirmed that flamingos in zoos avoid artificial nests. But, he told RFI, the Khnifiss flamingos “may have seen the artificial nests as a potential ‘remnant’ of past breeding and therefore decided to stop and nest somewhere of their choice”.
What is absolutely certain is how positive the news of the breeding pairs at the Khnifiss site is for the long-term future of these difficult birds.
“The flamingo is a very sensitive species,” Radi said. He said flamingos have been observed performing courtship displays in several other wetlands in the North African country, but no other successful nesting in Morocco has so far been recorded.
Wetlands under threat
Birds need plentiful food, sandy clay soil, islands surrounded by water to protect them from predators, and shelter from human disturbance.
“If one of the four conditions is not met, nesting cannot take place,” he said.
Everywhere, wetlands are threatened by urbanization and agriculture.
“Any new nesting site is great news for this species as it can provide insights for habitat and wetland management that can help make wetlands in other parts of the world suitable for nesting. other flamingo species,” said IUCN specialist Rose.
“Wetland climate change predictions could make some nesting sites unusable for flamingos in the future, creating and maintaining new sites that can be used by birds to sustain these populations,” a- he declared.
The provision of artificial islands and decoy nests encouraged flamingos to nest at a coastal wetland site in Bouches-du-Rhône, France, from 1974 to 1993.