Lake Natron, The Bird-Calcifying Lake That’s Actually Teeming With Life

Published September 5, 2016
Updated September 14, 2018

Though Lake Natron is known for its life-ending properties, it's actually quite hospitable to some lucky species.

You may remember the eerie black and white photographs of calcified birds that went viral a couple years ago. The poor creatures appeared to have “turned to stone” in the highly caustic waters of Tanzania’s Lake Natron — specifically due to the high amounts of sodium carbonate in the lake.

This mineral deposit makes its way into the lake via Ol Doinyo Lengai, a nearby volcano and the sole active producer of natrocarbonatite lava. This volcanic by-product is rich in sodium and potassium carbonate, which seeps into the lake and contributes to the water’s pH level.

But Lake Natron is not a dark pool of death or despair. In fact, the lake and surrounding area teem with life:

Lake Natron Eagle Swallow
Calcified Flamingo
Calcified Fisk Eagle Bat
Lesser Flamingoes
Lake Natron, The Bird-Calcifying Lake That’s Actually Teeming With Life
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Amazingly, between 65 and 75 percent of the world’s population of lesser flamingos, for example, are born on Lake Natron -- and the lake's alkalinity actually aids in that process. Indeed, the extreme pH levels keep predators away from the baby flamingo chicks, which hatch on the lake's salt islands.

Volcanic carbonate ash also produces lush pastures, which prove to be a fantastic breeding ground during the wildebeest migration. Increasing the radius a little further from the lake and closer to Kenya, it's even easy to find lions, ostriches, gazelles, zebras, and buffalo in these surprisingly fertile environs.

After learning about Lake Natron, check out Canada's bizarre spotted lake and Nevada's stunning Fly Geyser.

Erin Kelly
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.