by Dot & Bill Bell
The only flamingoes in North America reside on the northern and gulf shores of the Yucatan Peninsula near a town called Celestún – a 4 ½ hour drive East from Merida. Here you can arrange a boat trip to see these amazing birds in a nearby lagoon and sanctuary.
The town of Celestún is a small seaside fishing village with a small church and many beachside restaurants and a few small hotels. The milky emerald water is just fine for a dip before or after you visit the flamingo reserve.
The Pink Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) flock’s current population is approximately 18,000, and you will be absolutely amazed when you see them on your tour. The flamingoes huddle together in huge flocks as they eat shrimp and other small organisms from the muddy lagoon bottom. They require salty lagoon water about 1/2 a meter or less in depth to wade and feed – this lagoon has perfect conditions.
Thousands of flamingoes huddle together as they eat in the shallow lagoon waters. Mature flamingoes are 3 years and older. They are a brighter red and pink than their immature cousins. Only registered tour guides can explore the lagoon; each trained not to charge these birds. If forced to fly too often they will not feed and will abandon their nests and colonies.
Parque Natural del Flamenco Mexicano (also known as the “Celestun Biosphere Reserve”), a wetland reserve that is the winter home to vast flocks of flamingos, as well as many herons and other bird species. In addition, approximately 300 species of birds pass through on migration, or live there Celestun’s ecosystem is unique because of a combination of fresh water from the estuary and salt water from Gulf of Mexico. The reserve also boasts two types of pelicans – large white Canadian and smaller gray Mexican ones. Celestun is also known as a hatching ground for endangered sea turtles. Wildlife conservationists have an ongoing project to protect the sea turtles from encroaching modernization.
One of the busiest times for tourism is semana santa, when local Maya villagers from around the region visit Celestun. Local folk-catholic traditions are abundant during holy week, when the town’s patron saint is floated out to sea surrounded by candles, and visited by the patron saint of nearby Kinchil.