Scientific Name:  Phoenicopterus ruber (Greater and Caribbean subpecies) Phoenicopterus chilensis (Chilean) Phoeniconaias minor (lesser)Phoenicopparrus andinus (Andean) Phoenicopparrus jamesi (puna or James’).

Conservation Status: Least Concern (Greater and Caribbean subpecies) Near threatened (Chilean) Near threatened (lesser) Vulnerable (Andean) Near threatened (puna or James’).

Appearance

flamingoFlamingos have long legs and a long neck. Their beak is curved to help them with filter feeding and they have webbed feet for swimming and stability when standing in soft mud. They are water birds are there are five species, Greater, Chilean, Lesser, Andean and James’. Adult flamingos range in colour from light pink to bright red.

Flamingos often stand on only one leg with the other leg tucked up under their body. It is mostly thought that they do this to rest one side of their body. The flamingo like some other animals has got the ability to have half of its body asleep with the other half awake, so once one side of their body is rested they swap legs to give the other half a rest. It has also been thought that by standing on one leg it might allow them to conserve their body heat because they spend a lot of time wading in water that is cold.

The height of a flamingo is between 1 to 1.4 metres (3.3 to 4.6 feet) with a wingspan of 1 to 1.6 metres (3.3 to 5 feet) and they generally weigh between 1.5 to 4.1 kilograms (3.3 to 9 pounds).

Lifespan

The usual lifespan for the flamingo is about 20 -30 years but it is not unusual for them to live up to 50 years especially in captivity.

Diet

Flamingos eat brine shrimp, algae, insect larvae, small fish or crustaceans. Mostly they eat by a process called filter feeding, their beaks are specially adapted to separate silt and mud from the food they are eating, and their beaks are used upside down. Their mouths are covered in little hairs called lamellae which help to filter the water, they also have a rough tongue which also help to filter the food from the water.  Sometimes they will stamp their webbed feet to stir up food from the bottom.

The pink or red colour that the flamingo turns as an adult comes from the carotenoid pigments (like what is in carrots) that is in the algae and small crustaceans that they eat, so flamingos that eat only blue-green algae will be darker in colour than those who eat animals that have eaten the algae.

Habitat

flamingoThe greater flamingo is found in Africa, Southern Europe and Southern Asia, the lesser flamingo is found in Africa and Northern India, the Chilean flamingo is found in South America. The James’ and Andean flamingos are found in the Andes mountains in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

They will be found where there is large shallow lakes or lagoons. They do not have many predators as adults as they usually live in areas that are inhospitable and not much vegetation so not many other birds or animals come there, however the chicks are vulnerable to eagles, crocodiles and wild dogs etc.

Reproduction

Flamingos mate about once a year and the females reach sexual maturity at about 3 -5 years old. The male and female both help to build a nest out out mud, stones and feathers before the egg is laid. The female flamingo usually only lays one egg at a time and the incubation period is about 27-31 days and both the male and female help to incubate the egg. When the chick is born it weighs about 70-90 grams (2.5 to 3.2 ounces) and has grey down feathers, a straight pink bill and pink legs. The bill and legs start to turn black after a week or two and the beak begins to bend. When the chick is born it can not filter feed but the mother and father produce a crop milk that comes from their digestive tract that they feed to the chick. They are fed this way for about two weeks and then the chicks join a “creche” with other chicks and they start to find their own food.

Social life

Flamingos are extremely social birds and live in colonies that range in size from a few pairs of birds to sometimes thousands of birds. The large colonies seem to serve a few purposes such as protection from predators, maximising food intake and use of the suitable nesting sites. Both males and females in these groups seem to perform synchronised ritual displays. These displays include head flagging (stretching the neck up high and turning the head side to side), wing salute (showing off the colours of the tail with the neck outstretched), twist-preen (twisting the neck back and preen the feathers with the bill quickly) and marching (when the flock walks closely together and then all change direction at the same time).

Quick Facts

Flamingos are most often seen standing on one leg with the other leg tucked up under them, which seems to be how they rest one side of their body at a time.

They get their distinctive colour from eating blue-green algae or eating animals that have eaten the algae, and they can range in colour from light pink to dark red.

The Andean flamingo is the only species that has yellow legs.

When the flamingo chicks are born they have a straight beak which starts to bend as they grow.

They are extremely social animals and like to be in large flock