More than 50,000 flamingos massage in France

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PARIS – This is a feast for the eyes! Tens of thousands of flamingos have gathered in the wetlands of southern France with their offspring still devoid of flaming plumage.Birds with long legs resembling ballerinas in tutus have long drawn tourists to the marshes of the Camargue which has served as a salt mine in France since Roman times. But the number of flamingos this year may be the highest since experts began keeping records 45 years ago, said Thierry Marmol, the keeper of the vast ecosystem.

France’s two months of strict containment to contain the coronavirus could well be the reason.

Experts relying on aerial photos have estimated that 25,000 pairs of flamingos, or 50,000 adult birds, have settled in the area this year, Marmol said. About 12,000 babies have been counted. “It’s historic,” he said, pointing out that the little ones are hard to count.

“Maybe the lockdown helped make a good year,” Marmol said. “It is obvious that with the confinement, there was no disturbance. There were no planes, no noise at all.

It is still too early to confirm that the anti-virus lockdown was a factor in what it said was “one of the best four years of all time” for flamingos in the Salins.

For 35 years, Marmol has watched over 8,000 hectares around the town of Aigues-Mortes, living on the land “like a trapper in America”.

He is a keen observer of the birds, fauna and flora that attract bird watchers and other experts in the field. This year’s bumper crop of flamingos is a treat, even for him.

The Salins, with their particularly salty water, also supply France with tons of salt. Aigues-Mortes is about 50 kilometers from Arles, the nearest large town.

Flamingo experts spent about three hours on Wednesday outfitting 320 chicks with two bands – one plastic, one metal – so scientists could track their migration.

As autumn arrives, many will migrate to warmer temperatures in Spain, Italy, Turkey or North Africa. The tapes are “like a license plate,” Marmol said. The plastic strip allows bird watchers to spot them with binoculars or a telescope. The information is passed on to scientists who track the birds in centers around the world. Each country uses a designated color for the bands.

Luckily for flamingo aficionados, about half will choose to stay behind. Who knows why?

Babies have to wait for their plume to grow. Adults and others ready to take off may decide that the coming winter won’t be cold so “they take their chances and stay,” said Marmol.

He recalled the very cold winter of France in 2003, when thousands of flamingos were found dead.

“They made a bad choice that year,” Marmol said.

Elaine Ganley, Associated Press

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