7 Reasons Why Pink Flamingos Are Absolutely Fabulous
I think pink flamingos are fabulous. I always spend time with them when I visit a zoo or nature preserve. I enjoy watching them because they are so beautiful. Before I get into the reasons these birds are so fabulous, let’s look at a few basic facts.
- Flamingos are a type of wading bird.
- There are only six species of flamingos.
- They are found in tropical and sub-tropical areas in many parts of the world.
- They like places with lots of water and an abundant supply of food so they are most often found near lakes, lagoons, and swampy areas.
- Flamings are highly social animals.
- A colony includes from 200 birds to thousands of birds.
- They stand between three and a half to five feet tall.
- Despite their height, they weigh only between 4.4 to 8.8 pounds.
The Six Species of Flamingo
American (or Caribbean) Flamingo
Larger, Deeper, brighter color
Caribbean, Mexico, Belize, Venezuela, Galápagos Islands
Larger, Gray legs with pink bands at the joints.
Largest, Most widespread, Paler color
Africa, Europe, Asia
Most numerous, Shorter, Dark pink color, crimson legs
Rarest, Pale pink, Yellow legs, three-toed feet
High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
James's (or Puna) Flamingo
Smallest, pinkish white feathers, Smaller bill
High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina
7 Reasons Why Pink Flamingos Are Fabulous
1.) They Are Pink
There are not very many pink creatures in the animal kingdom.
Flamingos are born white or grey, but turn pink, orange, or red because of their diet. They feed upon shrimplike crustaceans and beta-carotene laden bacteria and algae (The more beta-carotene they consume, the darker their color.)
2.) They Are Extraordinarily Beautiful
Their faces are beautiful. Pay attention to their eyes—don’t they look soulful?
Their black bills curve so elegantly. Plus, the black color is all the more vivid because it stands out against their pink coloring.
Their long necks look very graceful, often posed in an “S” shape. A flamingo has 19 elongated cervical (neck) vertebrae allowing for maximum movement and twisting.
Sometimes two flamingos will entwine their necks. It looks like a loving gesture, and it may be exactly that—it is actually part of their courtship ritual.
3.) They Have an Elaborate Courtship Ritual
A mating ritual can involve hundreds of individuals at one time. The entire flamingo colony mates at the same time so that the chicks are all hatched around the same time. The colony breeds when conditions are favorable which may occur at various times of the year. The colony breeds only once per year.
Mating involves in an elaborate group dance with both males and females participating.
The dance can consist of up to136 moves. The more complicated the display, the more likely a bird is to find a breeding partner.
- The dance begins with a “head-flag.” The flamingos stretch their necks and wave their heads from side to side rhythmically while emitting loud calls. (Their calls sound like the honk of a goose.)
- The “wing-salute” follows. The birds stretch their necks and spread their wings to display their black flight feathers.
- This is followed by the “inverted wing-salute.” The birds angle their head down and their tails up, so that their black flight feathers point towards the sky.
- Another dance move is the "twist-preen." The head is placed beneath a wing and it preens its feathers. An oil is emitted from the base of the tail which is usually used for waterproofing feathers, but it is also used during the mating ritual to deepen the color of the faethers and to make them glisten.
- Another move is the "wing-leg stretch"-- the leg and wing on one side of the body are stretched out.
- The birds also engage in “marching.” The birds stand erect within a cluster and the entire group takes a series of quick, synchronized steps. It is not exactly the Rockettes, but it is pretty impressive.
The mating takes place in the water. The female initiates the mating after she has chosen a male to mate with. She will move away from the group and her chosen mate will follow. The female then stops walking, lowers her head, and spreads her wings. This allows the male to mount her for mating. After mating, the male stands on the female’s back and jumps off over her head.
Flamingos are old enough to mate at about 6 years of age.
Flamingo colonies may breed during the spring and summer months, but there is no set time. The entire colony will breed at the same time so all the chicks of a colony hatch around the same time in any one year. Colonies very rarely breed more than once a year.
The Flamingo Single-Mingle
4.) They Are Monogamous (Sort Of) and Egalitarian Parents
Flamingos stay loyal to their mate for only one year. The next year they will take new mates. So I should say they are serially monogamous.
The newly mated pair builds a nest together. The birds build nest mounds made of mud, small stones, straw, and feathers. These mounds can be as high as 12 inches. High nest mounds protect the eggs and chicks from heat and flooding. The parents make a shallow well on the top; the female lays the egg in this well
Only one egg is laid each mating season. Both parents sit on the egg for about a month while it incubates.
After the chick hatches, both parents take turns feeding it. A baby chick is fed with a special liquid the parent birds (both male and female) produce in their throats called crop milk. This milk is made in the glands lining the flamingo’s upper digestive tract. Later, the parents feed the chick with regurgitated food.
The young begin to leave the nest when they are about two weeks old. They will congregate into groups called “crèches” which often include thousands of chicks. A group of adults will care for all of the offspring. These adults protect the young birds from birds of prey and teach them how to swim and find food.
The chicks will not turn pink until they are about two to three years old.
5.) They Can Stand on One Leg for a Really Long Time
They often stand balanced on one long leg like a ballerina. Their legs look so spindly, you’d think that even two legs wouldn’t be enough to support themy, but they manage to stand for long periods of time on just one leg.
They may stand on one leg as a way to conserve body heat. They usually sleep standing on one leg with their heads tucked into their feathers.
6.) They Can Fly Really Fast and Far
These birds may not look like they can fly well, but they have powerful wings. They can fly at speeds up to 40 miles per hour and can travel almost 400 miles without having to land. Their wing span is about 5 to 6 feet.
The height and weight of this large bird require it to run while beating its wings to take flight. Once airborne, it lifts its legs and straightens its neck like an arrow. The feathers on the underside of their wings are black, but you can only see them when the birds are in flight (or when displayed during the mating dance).
It takes a lot of effort for them to fly, so they do not fly too often.
7.) The Word “Flamingo” Connotes Excitement
The word comes from the Spanish and Portuguese flamengo which literally means "flame-colored." (The same word which gives us flamenco.)
A flock of flamingos is called a “flamboyance,” probably because of their flamboyant appearance. (The flock can also be called a stand, colony, or regiment, but those words don’t do these magnificent birds justice.)
Just for Fun--Take this Poll
How do you feel about flamingos?
Finally, Some Interesting Flamingo Factoids
Hooray for Plastic Lawn Flamingos!
Some people think that plastic pink flamingos (jokingly called Phoenicopterus plasticus) are tacky, but I love them. The plastic lawn flamingo was invented by Don Featherstone of Massachusetts in1957. Today, there are more plastic flamingos in America than there are real ones.
The plastic lawn flamingo even has its own holiday--Flamingo Day is celebrated on June 23. Another honor has also been bestowed upon the plastic pink flamingo—in 2009, it was named the official bird of Madison, Wisconsin.
Flamingos Are the National Bird of the Bahamas
Lake Windsor (called Lake Rosa by the locals) on the island of Great Inagua in the Bahamas is one of the four main nesting sites in the world for flamingos.
In the Bahamas (and the Caribbean) they call Phoenicopterus ruber the “Caribbean Flamingo.”
Flamingos Fascinated People, Even in Ancient Times
The ancient Egyptians considered flamingos to be the living representation of Ra, the sun god.
A cave painting of a flamingo was found in the south of Spain. This accurate depiction of a flamingo dates back to 5,000 B.C.
The Oldest Known Flamingo Was 83 Years Old
He was a Greater Flamingo named “Greater” and also called “Flamingo One.” He lived in a zoo in Australia and died in 2014. His sex is unknown.
The typical flamingo lives to about 30-40 years of age, although it is not uncommon for some birds to live to age 50.
Flamingos Are Food for Humans (Gasp!)
It seems shocking to me that anyone would prey upon these birds and eat them. My next thought was: I eat chicken, turkey, and duck and they are birds too. Nonetheless, I could never eat a flamingo.
In some places, flamingos were hunted almost to extinction. Today, they are a protected animal in many parts of the world and it is a crime to kill them.
- In ancient Rome (and even today), the tongues of flamingos were considered a delicacy.
- Andean miners killed flamingos for their fat because they believed it could cure tuberculosis.
- Starving Venezuelans have been killing and eating flamingos and their eggs even though it is illegal to do so.
Just so you know—I'm told it tastes like chicken. But there is also a bit of a fishy quality because of their seafood diet.
Flamingos May Be Endangered
Flamingos are not officially on the endangered list, but the number of flamingos has declined compared to half a century ago or even a decade ago.This is due to loss of habitat due to human incursion and environmental factors--so it is pretty much humans causing problems for these beautiful birds.
The environmental factors include pollution that causes disease and global warming. Hotter temperatures and less rain dry up their water habitats and reduce their food sources. It also interferes with their desire to mate.
And also, that eating of them that I previous mentioned. Interestingly, flamingos have few natural predators because they tend to live in areas which are inhospitable to most other animals. The chicks may be attacked by eagles, but that is about it.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Catherine Giordano