Laguna Colorada and its Unique James’s Flamingo

Laguna Colorada, or the Red Lagoon, is a shallow salt lake located in Bolivia, within Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, very close to the border with Chile. One of Bolivia’s altiplano wonders, the lake and its nearly-extinct flamingo population draw visitors from all over the world.

It is easy to visit it on one of the tours from Uyuni or San Pedro de Atacama. Add to this experience other colorful lagoons, salt flats extends to the horizon, the geysers and hot springs, which a laying around Laguna Colorada – it is surely going to fascinate you with its awesome beauty!

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Brilliant red to deep orange-red water tinged with red algae and other microorganisms which thrive in the salt water. It is only 50 cm deep – which makes it an ideal place for flamingo’s habitat.
It is the perfect destination to see the flocks of flamingos. Three species of flamingos breeding here – Andean, Chilean and James’s flamingo.

One of them, James’s flamingo, can be found only in this area of Laguna Colorada and few other lagoons around like Laguna Hedionda.

Some facts about James’s flamingo

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It breeds only on the high Andean plateaux of southern Peru, north-eastern Chile, western Bolivia, and north-western Argentina. Generally non-migratory, only some birds can make local movements to lower altitudes in winter, into open water near hot springs as the night-time in winter temperatures drop to -30° C and even the saline lakes can freeze solid.

In 1924, the James’s flamingo was believed to be extinct. It was rediscovered in 1957, a few pairs were living together with a larger number of Chilean Flamingos and Andean Flamingo at Laguna Colorada in the Bolivian mountains — the first James’ Flamingo nests ever found.

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The species now has an estimated global population of 63000. Nesting success is unpredictable. James’ Flamingos at Laguna Colorada one year raised 10500 chicks but only 1260 the next year. Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay only a one egg per year. If that egg is damaged, they usually don’t replace it.

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It is the palest of the South American flamingos and is distinguised from other species by its orange legs, yellow bill and red skin near the eyes. Chilean Flamingos are pinker, with paler and longer bills. Andean Flamingos have yellow legs, they are larger, more violet in colour, with black in wings and bill.

Who is James?

Harry Berkeley James was born in England in 1846. At the age of 21 he started work as a clerk in Valparaíso, big seaport of Chile. He was a keen naturalist and he funded expeditions to different part of Chile to collect specimens of native birds, butterflies and moths.
He had to return to England after Chile declared war with Bolivia and Peru in 1879. He was able to come back to Valparaíso only in 1881 to continue to work on his bird’s collection. Sadly, the collection was built by shooting birds or bying interesting species from the hunters – but this is how thigs were done at that time.

After his death he left a big collection of 1,382 skins and 678 eggs of birds of Chile in Santiago museum (after his death this collection moved to British Natural History Museum) and a book “List of Chilian Birds”.

Among the birds collected by Harry Berkeley James was a new flamingo, which was named “James’ Flamingo” in honour of his patron.

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