Flamingos are one of the most striking birds on the planet. Their signature pink-hued plumage, curved necks and long, elegant legs make them instantly recognisable. For wildlife lovers who head off on professional bird tours all over the world, the opportunity to encounter the inimitable flamingo is often a highlight. |
Belonging to the Phoenicopteridae family of waders, the name comes from the Spanish, meaning "flame coloured". Perhaps the most interesting fact about them is that their distinctive colour comes from the pigment (beta carotene) consumed in their staple diet of small, shrimplike crustaceans and algae. This is why those seen in captivity are often paler in colour than those seen on bird tours of their natural habitats.
Distribution of Species
While, unfortunately, there are at least eight species that are now extinct, there are six remaining.
Old World: The two species from the Old World are the Greater and Lesser Flamingos, found in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe.
New World: The four from the New World are the Chilean, Andean, American and James' species, found throughout a number of South American countries, Mexico, Belize, the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands.
They live in flocks: The entire flock (also called a colony, regiment or flamboyance) works as a group to maintain safety against predators and raise their young.
They love to stand on one leg: There's no definitive answer as to why they like to stand with one leg tucked under their body, although one theory is that it's to conserve body heat while spending long periods in the water. (However they also do it in warm waters.)
They have specialised beaks: The shape of their beak determines what they eat; some species have deep, curved beaks to allow them to feed on small organisms, while others have shallow beaks that enable them to feed on small fish and insects.
Their knees bend backwards: Or so it may seem. In fact this is an illusion, because what is seen as their knee is actually the equivalent of an ankle, and the true knee is hidden close to their body.
They have black under feathers: Their black feathers are not visible except when they're in full flight.
They've got moves: Sexually mature males perform an elaborate mating dance, which comprises more than 135 different moves. The more complex the display, the more likely they are to attract a female to mate. The flock quite often performs the ritual in unison, which is a striking sight. (Females also perform some 'dance' moves during courtship.)
The flock all mate at the same time: The colony breaks off into mating pairs (up to 50 pairs) so chicks will hatch simultaneously and can be protected by the group. Females lay one egg at a time and parents take turns to incubate it on the nesting mound.
Chicks are born white (or grey): They will only turn pink after their first couple of years.
They have model proportions: The bird's elegant physique is one of its defining features. The Greater Flamingo stands, on average, around 1.3m and weighs just 3.5 kilos.
They have longevity: In the wild they can live anything from 20-30 years and up to 50 years in captivity. The oldest recorded lived to 83 in an Australian zoo.
While this spectacular wading bird can quite often be seen in captivity, nothing compares to the experience that can be had on professional bird tours to encounter them in their natural habitat. The enchanting sight of a vast flurry of pink feathers as a colony feeds or performs courtship rituals on a lake, estuary or lagoon makes for a truly enduring memory.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in bird watching. As a passionate lover of birds, Marissa chooses the expert-led bird tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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