Birds in the News

A Black Flamingo Stands in Cyprus

It’s not every day you see Earth’s (maybe) only black flamingo.

This black flamingo is one in several million—and perhaps, the only one in the world.

On April 8, it was spotted during a flamingo count along a salt lake at the Akrotiri environmental center on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. This same flamingo may have also been seen in Israel in 2014, when a 70-year-old man captured what could be the world’s “the one and only black flamingo” on camera, the photographer told the Monterey Herald.  

Greater Flamingo flocks regularly move long distances, “so there's a good chance that this is the same individual that was seen in Israel,” says Audubon’s field editor Kenn Kaufman.

The bird’s inky feathers are a result of melanism, a genetic condition that produces too much of the pigment “melanin,” turning those otherwise pink plumes black during development. The opposite of melanism is albinism, when no melanin is made and the animal is colorless besides a faint hue in the eyes (from red blood vessels). When several types of pigment are partially missing, the result is a patchy coloration known as leucism—a few white feathers here, a bleached splotch there. Albino and Leucistic (“partial albino”) birds are much more frequent than melanistic birds, says Kaufman, “although these still affect only a tiny percentage of the populations of most bird species.” 

Other strange cases of all-black feathers have been observed in birds from owls to woodpeckers to herons. The condition seems to be most common in a few hawk species, as well as jaegers, and some seabirds, he says. But "I don't know of any other cases of melanism in flamingos."

We have to assume,” says Kaufman, the odds of such “a fascinating bird” occurring, “are only one in several million—at least.” 

Given that fewer than a million Greater Flamingos exist, it seems this black beauty (okay, the flamingo has a few white rear feathers) is one of a kind.