Yucatan Flamingo Adventure
Thanks to the movie “Jerry McGuire” you’re probably are aware that the human head weighs 8 pounds. But did you know that a full-grown flamingo weighs about the same? That’s pretty incredible considering this large bird stands between 5 and 6 feet tall. Talk about skinny! We learned all kinds of fun facts like this on our Yucatan Flamingo Adventure to the Ria Celestun Biosphere.
To beat the heat (and the crowds), we left Merida at 6AM, arriving into Celestun about an hour later. Rather than taking one of the many group tours offered in motorized boats, we opted for a private excursion in a canoe. This was an excellent choice for several reasons.
1. We spent 2 hours on the water as compared to the 30 minute group tour
2. We received personalized attention since it was just the 2 of us with our guide
3. We were able to get close to the flamingos because the canoe was noiseless
4. We were the only people around since we went to a more remote part of the biosphere
Our guide, Alex Dzib, got his start escorting tourists around the area when he was a teenager. When he got a bit older, he studied biology at Syracuse University. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the area and he was kind enough to explain the geography of the region as well as its flora and fauna.
The biosphere includes shallows, dunes, mangroves, lagoons, marshes, and even hammock forests (this is where the jaguars live). It’s an amazing ecosystem filled with all kinds of wildlife.
As we got into the canoe we noticed frothy white patches dotting the shoreline. Alex explained that this was salt. Apparently, in pre-Columbian times the ancient Mayans harvested it from this area. They built up the naturally occurring dunes and created shallow ponds. Once the hot sun evaporated the water, they would go and collect the salt crystals.
In addition to being salty, the water here is extremely silty. In many places it’s only about a foot deep, but it’s impossible to stand in it because it’s so soft. In fact, the areas that looked like mangrove islands were in reality just thick, muddy quicksand. It was a little scary to think about how easy it would be to get trapped.
Along with flamingos, we were lucky enough to see a potpourri of other birds, including pelicans, herons, storks, orioles, kingfishers, and one lone turkey vulture. We also spotted some chorlitos. Funny enough, the term cabeza de chorlito, which means ditzy or having a birdbrain, is based on this small, cute bird. And, the insult chachalaca (loud-mouth) is based on a very noisy bird that is found in the area. But, enough about these birds, let's talk about flamingos.
There are six different species worldwide. The ones found in the Yucatan are called American flamingos. (They are also sometimes referred to as Caribbean flamingos.) Their habitat includes Florida, the Caribbean islands, the northern part of South America, the Galapagos Islands, and, of course the Mexican Yucatan.
Here are some fun facts to know about this pretty pink bird:
· They have the longest-leg-to-body-size ratio of any bird species
· Their neck length is about the same as their legs (and also their wingspan)
· They get their pink coloring from the beta carotene that’s in the brine shrimp they eat
· The undersides of their wings are black
· Their nests are volcano-shaped mounds that are built on the ground out of mud and shells
· The female lays a single egg; the male helps her build the nest, sit on the egg, and care for the hatchling
· The young feed on crop milk which is a secretion produced from their parents’ (both male and female) throats
· They have a very long lifespan, living 20-30 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity
The best time for spotting flamingos in Celestun is December through March during their mating season.
There’s a bit of apples-to-oranges comparison on the tour costs. Our 2-hour private canoe tour was $55 per person, so $110 total. The price of a 30-minute group tour on a motorized boat was $90 per boat (so the more people you have, the cheaper the price per person).
You can book either tour through Kaxaant Travels. They can also drive you between Merida and Celestun, so all you have to do is sit back and relax and enjoy the birding.