National Geographic : 1951 May
636 Author and Helper, Invading Andros, Pull Their Dinghy over a Bar Dr. Zahl (right) remained long enough to discover a tragedy: flamingos which once brightened a wasteland had disappeared. screamed its indignation over this aerial violation of its traditional homeland. One of the most fragile and neurotic of birds, the flamingo has techniques for protecting itself and its nest from hawks, crabs, lizards, sharks, and floods. But to the roaring menace of a low-flying plane it has no response other than hysteria. Such springtime groups of fla mingos as were seen on Andros by these early airmen were recent ar rivals from remote swamps-perhaps in Cuba, perhaps in isolated sections of the Bahamas-where they had undergone their winter molt. There they lived in relative nongregarious ness, possibly because they preferred not to be seen by their fellows during this feather-shedding process. But when the regrowth of richly colored plumage had given each spindly body an elegant new dress, the mating call began to stir within each bird. They knew, too, that at Andros a fresh crop of small mol lusks, believed to be the flamingo's sole diet, lay on the sands. In small groups the birds emerged from their winter reticence in distant swamps to make the ocean flight to Andros. Flying in gooselike forma tion, they entered Androsean skies, peering down in search of other earlier arrivals of their species. Group after group returned to the old nesting grounds off Grassy Creek, each alight ing with great fanfare among those already there. In the old days the congregation was said to exceed 25,000, with perhaps half that many nests speckling the shallow lakes. Here each year during April and May vast bird cities would come to life. With great wing flutter and excitement the previously quiet shoals would resound with the bedlam of a thousand courtship dances, the quivering flurry of treading, the heap ing of mud by webbed feet and its masonry by crooked beaks into cylin drical mounds. And soon acres of mud nests would be glorified by in numerable white eggs (page 645). The small mollusks, living by the billion on the floor of the lakes, were cleaned out in the areas immediately around the nests. When a setting female needed food, she rose from her nest, stretched her stilty legs, and took off for some more distant bight.