Stone Birds Found in Africa’s Lake Natron

Photographer Nick Brandt captures post-mortem images


Brandt, On display

Birds are being turned to stone by the waters of Lake Natron in Tanzania, Africa.  The lake, named for the naturally occurring mix of chemicals including soda ash and baking soda in its waters, is so salty, fish can only survive along the edges where the saline content is somewhat lower.

Photographer Nick Brandt captured images of birds and other animals killed by the high alkaline content of the lake. He picked up animals washed up onto the shore of the lake and placed them in pre-mortem positions for his photographs.  The dead animals are preserved in eerie detail, from birds to bats; each one has been slowly turned to stone by the waters of Lake Natron.

The lake is fed by a river and mineral hot springs in the area, but has no outlet, so these waters have nowhere to go but up. Evaporation of the surface creates islands of exposed salt deposits in the lake, some large enough to be recorded on satellite images.

The only creatures that are surviving in Lake Natron include a single species of fish, alkaline tilapia (Alcolapia latilabris), and cyanobacteria, a type of blue-green algae. This algae gives the lake a rust-colored appearance from space.  The lake temperature can rise to 120 degrees (F), which makes it far too hot for any other kind of wildlife to live there, but lesser flamingos use the lake as feeding and nesting grounds. The flamingos eat the blue-green algae of the lake and use the salt-islands and the outer edges for breeding. Lake Natron is the one of very few places in the world where these birds breed. Due to the caustic nature of the lake and the surrounding landscape, the flamingos can breed without fear of predators.

During the dry season, Lake Natron’s pH levels can rise to 10.5, which is just below ammonia on the scale of caustic substances. This makes the lake highly corrosive, and contributes to the “stoning” of so many birds and mammals that fall victim to the water. The mineral content can get so high that the water feels “thick” to the touch.Theories suggest the animals are confused by the glassy surface of the lake and get trapped there, slowly calcifying because the water is so “heavy” they cannot escape once they come in contact with it.

This phenomenon is being brought to light in the third installment of Brandt’s photo book series, entitled Across the Ravaged Land (Pt. 1 2010-2011 & Pt. 2 2011-2012). Brandt has already published the first two installments in the series, On This Earth (2000-2004) and A Shadow Falls (2005-2007, 2008-2009) and documents the disappearing wildlife of East Africa. Brandt’s work shows us the reality of man’s effect on earth. The stark beauty of his work catches the observer off guard, and once seen, cannot be forgotten.  Brandt highlights what we humans rarely see: the results of our progression across the planet and the creatures we may harm in the course of that progression.


  • Naturalist Jane Gooddall has contributed an introduction to Brandt’s compilation of the first two photo books of the series.
  •  The lesser flamingos that nest around Lake Natron get their pink tinge from the cyanobacteria they eat from the lake.
  • Lesser flamingos are classified as a “near threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Ancient Egyptians used natron to dry out the dead in preparation for mummification.


Written by: Brandi Tasby

12 Responses to Stone Birds Found in Africa’s Lake Natron

  1. harrydika October 5, 2013 at 12:29 am


  2. Nick Brandt October 2, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    The birds are not “turned to stone”. They are calcified.

    • derp October 2, 2013 at 1:38 pm

      Uh… calcium is a mineral, so you’re really just splitting hairs here.

      • fashionsfists October 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

        lol, I think Nick’s allowed to split hairs; he took the photos everyone’s so intrigued by. They’re beautiful, btw.

  3. underabus October 2, 2013 at 11:27 am

    He’s lying.


We will read your comment immediately so leave a remark!

RSS Guardian Express

  • Chris Brown Trial Delayed for Months April 24, 2014
    The assault charge trial for Chris Brown has been delayed for months because his bodyguard, who is a key witness in the singer’s case, was denied immunity. Bodyguard Christopher Hollosy said that he would not testify without immunity until he has finished appealing his own case. Immunity would allow Hollosy to testify without putting his […]
    Twanna Harps
  • Hawaii Announces Bruno Mars Day Again April 24, 2014
    Hawaii announced December 19 as Bruno Mars day, and then once again, Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie declared Monday, April 21, 2014, as Bruno Mars Day. Usually when a state announces a holiday, it is a one-time event. The new day coincides with his three-day concert that was sold out in Honolulu. He is not the […]
    Heather Tillman
  • American Idol The Super Six Perform (Review & Videos) April 24, 2014
    American Idol tonight is down to the final six competitors of the season. The Super Six will perform twice, each one singing a country and a rock song, and then their fates will be in your hands, America! Vote on the one or ones you think did the best, or who you simply like the […]
    Douglas Cobb
  • Daniel Franzese of ‘Mean Girls’ Comes Out April 24, 2014
    In a heartwarming letter to his character, “Damien,” from the movie Mean Girls, Daniel Franzese is ready to come out of the closet. It has been close to 10 years since the release of the hit movie, and his letter is not only inspirational, but also sad in places. He tells “Damien” that he wished he had […]
    Kristi Cereska
  • Johnny Cueto Dominates for Cincinnati: Reds Report April 24, 2014
    For a team still trying to find their way Johnny Cueto is doing his part; dominating opposing hitters, making his case for the pitcher of the month in the National League in April and keeping the Cincinnati Reds afloat. Cueto is now 2-2 on the season with a 1.38 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.77. […]
    Mick Varner

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 630 other subscribers