Fun Facts About Flamingos

A pair of bright pink flamingos.
A pair of bright pink flamingos.
Credit: Vladislav Gajic | Shutterstock

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Phoenicopteriformes

Family: Phoenicopteridae

Genus: Phoenicopterus, Phoenicoparrus, Phoeniconaias

Species: Phoenicopterus roseus (Greater Flamingo), Phoenicopterus ruber (Caribbean, or American, Flamingo), Phoenicopterus chilensis (Chilean Flamingo); Phoenicoparrus andinus (Andean Flamingo), Phoenicoparrus jamesi (James's Flamingo); Phoeniconaias minor (Lesser Flamingo)

(Note: Some sources consider the Greater and Caribbean flamingos to be sub-species of one species Phoenicopterus ruber, with the Greater Flamingo becoming Phoenicopterus ruber roseus, and the Caribbean, Phoenicopterus ruber ruber)

Basic flamingo facts:

Flamingos are large pink or red-colored wading birds known for their long legs.

The largest species is the Greater Flamingo, which stands between 4 and 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) tall and weighs up to 7.7 pounds (3.5 kilograms). The smallest species is the Lesser Flamingo, which stands a little more than 2.5 feet (0.8 m) tall and weighs about 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg).

Greater flamingos have the palest plumage, while Caribbean flamingos are the brightest pink in color.

Flamingos come from an ancient bird lineage, with fossils similar to modern flamingos dating from 30 million years ago, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.

That distinctive pink color of flamingos comes from the food they eat: algae and shrimp that contain carotenoid pigments (the same stuff that makes carrots orange), and which produce a red pigment when broken down during digestion.

To feed, a flamingo holds its beak upside down in the water, sucking in mud at the front of its bill and them shooting it back out the sides. Tiny, hair-like filters called lamellae line their beaks and sieve their food from the water. One study found that erectile tissue helped the birds to feed upside down.

A flamingo's long legs allow it to wade into deeper water in search of food than other birds, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Flamingos are social birds and live in groups that can vary in size. They flock together on the ground and when flying.

Flamingos engage in group displays, such as "wing salutes" and "marching," that serve to synchronize the group hormonal cycle for breeding, according to the Philadelphia Zoo. They are also loud volcalizers.

Flamingos can fly, but they need to run a few paces before taking off. Their long necks stretch in front of them and their long legs behind when flying.

Flamingos breed in pairs, though pairs can change from season to season.

The male and female co-operate to build a nest and they lay only one egg per season, which both parents defend. After the chick has hatched both parents are also involved in feeding it.

A flamingo nest is essentially a mound of mud about a foot (0.3 m) high. The height protects the nest from flood and ground-level heat.

When a flamingo chick is born it has grey feathers and a pink beak and legs. They don't take on their characteristic pink color until around age two.

Flamingo chicks stay in their nest for five to 12 days are fed what is called "crop milk," a fatty substance with nutrients that is regurgitated from the upper digestive tract of the parents.

Once the chick is large enough it will join a larger group of chicks called a crèche.

Flamingos have few natural predators.

In the wild, flamingos live between 20-30 years. They can live longer than 30 years in captivity.

Where flamingos live:

Flamingos are native to the Americas, Africa, and Asia, although fossil evidence shows they once had a much wider range, including parts of North America, Europe and Australia.

Greater Flamingos are found in Africa, southern Europe and southwestern Asia. Lesser Flamingos are found in Africa and the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Chilean Flamingos are found in southwestern South America. Caribbean Flamingos are found in the Caribbean, northern South America, the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico and the Galapagos Islands. Both the Andean and James's Flamingo are found in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.

Flamingos usually live in areas of shallow saltwater lakes, coastal lagoons and mud flats.

Conservation status: Least Concern to Vulnerable

Least concern: Greater Flamingo, Caribbean Flamingo

Near threatened: Chilean Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, James's Flamingo

Vulnerable: Andean Flamingo

The Andean Flamingo has seen rapid population declines because of threats to its habitat and decline in habitat quality.

Odd flamingo facts:

In East Africa, more than one million Lesser flamingos sometimes flock together, forming the largest flocks of birds known today.

The Andean flamingo is the only species with yellow legs.

Flamingo tongues were highly prized as a delicacy by the ancient Romans, according to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. Their eggs are eaten in some parts of the world.

It isn't really known why flamingos tend to stand on one foot, but it has been hypothesized that keeping one of their feet out of the cold water helps them to conserve body heat. It also seems to be a comfortable resting position for them.

Other resources:

Smithsonian National Zoo - Flamingos

Flamingo Resource Center

San Diego Zoo - Flamingo

Philadelphia Zoo – Caribbean Flamingo

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden – Caribbean Flamingo

IUCN – Andean Flamingo

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