Enter the World of the Flamboyant Flamingo
The distinct perch of the flamingo is easily recognizable, we’ve all seen their beautiful pink plumes and uncanny ability to balance their weight on one leg. Even rarer than the penguin, the flamingo is only comprised of 6 species in all! Falling under the Phoenicopteridae category, they are the only birds that reside within this group, making them a pretty special part of our widely diverse planet.
Flamingos are Home-Grown
While the vast majority of birds migrate south for the winter, flamingos do not. At least, it hasn’t been normal behavior in the past. While they like to remain in one location, flamingos slowly move from one place to the next if there isn’t enough food in their current habitat, usually remaining within the same region. Like other rare animal species, the flamingo population appears to be exhibiting new patterns of migration in response to these environmental changes.
No matter where they end up though, flamingos prefer a clear sky without too many clouds or overcast for easier navigation.
You are what You Eat!
As adults, they no longer need to be fed by their mother and begin to forage for food on their own. Algae, shrimp, fly larva, and crustaceans make up the bulk of their preferred diet, which is why they have such large beaks. Interestingly enough, the deeper the pink hue in a flamingo’s feathers, the closer it is to breeding time. These birds are capable of intentionally darkening the color of their plume to indicate a desire for a mate. Unlike a peacock, both male and females will eventually turn pink.
Like most wildlife, flamingos are not immune to defects, and a single black bird was spotted off the coast of Cyprus in 2015. This change in color is referred to as “melanism,” and helps the flamingo in question blend in with their environment. However, it isn’t very appealing to potential mates, so don’t expect to see too many of these phenomena during your lifespan!
Milk is for Cows...and Baby Birds?
A couple of primary differences between mammals and birds is the way that they give birth and feed their young. Specifically, mammals generally feed offspring via breastmilk, whereas birds regurgitate partially digested food into the throats of their chicks. Instead, flamingos produce a substance called “crop milk,” which is also produced by pigeons.
Baby flamingos are actually born white, but the crop milk their mothers deliver is red, just like the food that she eats. If you didn’t know any better, it almost appears as though she’s feeding her chick blood, which is a little creepy. Fear not, a baby flamingo needs their beta carotene, and crop milk is packed with it. The downside is that the mother flamingo may lose her color for a short period of time if she has to sacrifice her own beta carotene due to shortages in her food supply. The good news is that this color drainage won’t last forever; once her chick is able to eat regularly and forage on their own, mom will get her pink back.
These peaceful birds also live in colonies, they help each other protect both the territory and the young. Babies are mature enough to swim, walk, and flap around a bit within the first 5 to 7 days of leaving the egg. As adults, flamingos will live from 20 to 30 years out in the wild.
Just Keep Swimming
Being that they don’t have any fins or “paddle” type appendages, you’d think flamingos would prefer the grass or the trees. However, their favorite places to be are marshes, swamps, lagoons, and aquatic areas. This is generally where they choose to eat, sleep, and mate; if you ever have the opportunity to see one standing still with a single leg held high, they’re likely fast asleep.
Their beaks have adapted to this environment, helping them acquire their food with ease. Flamingos don’t have to chase or expend all their energy tracking down crustaceans or algae, they simply use their beaks to strain them out of the sand and mud.
Take Me Home, Country Road
Sure, they like to hang out in the water, but where do flamingos live specifically? Well, the Greater Flamingo species prefer tropical reasons like Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia. Lesser Flamingos mostly reside in coastal portions of Africa, and the Caribbean variety of this bird enjoy the islands of Cuba, the Bahamas, and Yucatan.
Wild predators of the flamingo are far and few between, being such large and mobile birds. Alligators, lions, and cheetahs will sneak up and attack an adult bird, while foxes and snakes are more likely to steal eggs right out of the nest. A much bigger problem that flamingos face is the unavoidable reality of humans invading their homes.
In addition to the global climate changes we discussed, the development and construction of new neighborhoods and buildings have forced these beautiful creatures to flee from what might have been a long-term breeding ground.
Humans Steal From the Flamingo and Give to Themselves!
Since flamingos only lay a single egg once per year, it becomes less surprising that there aren’t as many of them as there are other birds. Sadly, there are people out there who steal eggs straight from the nest and sell them online or use them for food. They aren’t an endangered species quite yet, nor are the flamingo at risk.
However, some countries have put protective measures in place to ensure that the species doesn’t ever reach that point. Chile has specifically created boundaries for breeding grounds and flamingo colonization to preserve their eggs and nesting habitats.
In 1978 the Flamingo Specialist Group was created to help these birds not only sustain, but grow their populations. Thanks to these efforts, the flamingo won’t be disappearing on us anytime soon, but it's important to keep an eye on wildlife conservation groups and do whatever we can to keep these beautiful pink creatures on our planet! You can help by donating to international wildlife organizations, zoos, and aquariums.