Guest Author - Catherine Ebey
Flamingos are tall and lanky birds that exhibit a range in color from the brightest pink Caribbean flamingo to the palest pink Greater flamingo. Flamingos famously stand on one leg to rest or sleep and their legs bend the opposite way from ours. They are very gregarious animals that like to socialize. They live in large flocks together on mudflats near aquatic areas.
Flamingos typically exhibit group behavior. They will often do activities in groups and frequently exhibit synchronized behavior. There is a great scene in “Fantasia 2000” that shows animated flamingos doing synchronized behavior. Although the Disney movie exaggerates, flamingos really do things in sync often.
There are 6 species of flamingo including the Greater, Lesser, Caribbean, Chilean, Andean and Jame’s flamingo. You can find the Andean (Phoenicoparrus andinus) and Jame’s (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) flamingo species in the wild in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. The Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) is the tiniest flamingo standing at an average of three feet tall. This little guy can be found in the wild in Africa, India and Pakistan. The Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) can be found running about in southwestern South America.
The Caribbean flamingo is the brightest pink. This flamingo looks almost orange it is such a bright pink color. This flamingo can be found in the Caribbean, northern South America, within the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and on the Galapagos Islands. The Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) is so named because it is the tallest species of flamingo and can be as tall as 6 feet. It is also the palest flamingo; its feathers are so pale they almost look white.
Flamingos are filter feeders meaning they eat plankton, shrimp, small fish and algae from mud and muddy water. They have a special filter in their bill to filter out food and water from the mud they grab up. Their food is high in carotenoid pigments (the same pigments found in carrots and tomatoes). These pigments give the flamingo plumage its pink appearance.
Flamingos mate year-round. During mating, flamingos will typically pair off into couples and stay with that mate for the breeding season. To attract females, male flamingos will tilt their heads in unison while vocalizing then display their beautiful feathers by stretching out their wings.
The pair will then build nests out of mud. They will dig and pile mud together to build a small mound about a foot in diameter with a slight depression in the center. The female will then lay her egg on the nest.
Although the Greater and Caribbean flamingos are doing well in the wild, the other four species are listed as either near threatened or vulnerable to extinction. These flamingo species are primarily threatened by mining activities. Poachers also collect flamingo eggs. Another main threat to the species is water extraction. Basically “water extraction” means human water use for irrigation and other industrial activities. Flamingos like to live by water so any human activity that either reduces water availability or pollutes water threatens the flamingo habitat.
For an excellent documentary about Lesser flamingos watch Disneynature: The Crimson Wing - Mystery of Flamingos
For a book your kids will enjoy reading that provides lots of great information about flamingos, try "Those Funny Flamingos (Those Amazing Animals)"