The Flamingo, a large wading bird, lives in big, shallow lakes, lagoons, mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and on sandy islands above the low tide mark. They are found in Africa, Asia, North America, Central America, South America, and Europe. Flamingos can live in hot volcanic lakes and in icy lakes in the Andean mountains.
Adult flamingos range from 3.3 to 4.6 feet tall and weigh 3.3 to 9 pounds depending on their species. Wingspans range from 3.3 to 5 feet. There are 6 species of flamingo.
Their pink or reddish color comes from the algae, diatoms, and small crustaceans the birds eat. They also eat aquatic insects. Flamingos eat with their head upside down in the water, so they can suck water and food in with the front of their bill. Mud and water drain out the back of the bill. The food is caught by finger-like projections called lamellae in the beak. Flamingos hold their breath when feeding.
Flamingos run to gather speed when taking off. They flap their wings almost continuously in flight. They fly when startled or to migrate. The speed of a flock can reach 31 to 37 miles per hour. They can fly 300 miles to reach a new habitat.
The webbing between their toes helps them stand in soft mud and when swimming when the water is deeper than wading depth.
During the day flamingos preen using their bills and spreading oil from a gland near the base of their tail through their feathers. They spend 15 to 30% of the day preening.
Flamingos live in groups called colonies. They won’t nest unless there are other flamingos around. Both male and female flamingos mound up mud for a nest for their 1 egg and take turns incubating it. When chicks hatch, their down is gray or white. Once the chick is ready to leave the nest it joins a crèche like penguins.
Fun Flamingo Facts
- Grown flamingos have few natural predators.
- Flamingos live an average of 20 to 30 years.
- They rest by standing on one leg. The “knee” of the flamingo is actually an ankle joint and the lower leg bends forward.
- Nests are built up by mouthfuls of mud!
- Males and females look alike.
- The Andean flamingo has yellow legs and feet.
San Diego Zoo
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
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