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Phoenicopterus ruber [fE' nih kop' ter uhs roo' ber]
The greater flamingo stands about 4 feet high. Its pink coloration comes from its food, tiny blue-green algae that turn pink during digestion.
Distribution and Habitat
The greater flamingo is found in America from the Bahamas to Tierra del Fuego, including the Galapagos Islands, and in the Old World from southern Europe across to India; its migratory range extends into Southern Africa.
Flamingos are always found on lakes or lagoons of brackish water, where they breed and feed in shallow water.
Flamingos extract their food from the water by a filtering mechanism very much like that used by the blue whale. They wade through the water with necks lowered and heads upside down, sweeping from side to side. The upper and lower mandibles of the bill are fringed with bristles which trap particles as the flamingo sucks in water. The outer layer of coarse bristles keeps out large particles while minute algae are collected on an array of bristles inside the bill. The collected algae are then worked off onto the tongue and swallowed after the water has been expelled.
The greater flamingo has a more varied diet than other species. It feeds nearer the bottom, its bill has fewer filtering bristles, and has a flatter upper mandible, allowing it to sweep up small snails and shrimps, as well as quantities of mud from which it extracts organic matter.
Flamingos are gregarious, living in vast flocks of many thousands. They breed, feed and travel in flocks.
Flamingos breed in colonies of up to a million or more breeding pairs. Sometimes a particular breeding colony may be deserted for several years in succession. Then the flamingos may rear two broods in very quick succession. This seemingly erratic breeding behavior is probably due to changes in the water level of the breeding lake. Flamingo nests are towers of mud some 6 to 14 inches high, with a depression in the top for eggs. The water level has only to rise a foot or so for the colony to be inundated. On the other hand, if the water level of an alkaline lake drops, thick deposits of salt may form on the legs of chicks when they leave their nests, making it virtually impossible for them to move about.
At the beginning of the breeding season the flamingos indulge in spectacular courtship displays.
A single egg is laid in the saucer-shaped depression in the nest and is incubated for a month by both parents in turn. The chick stays on the nest for 2 to 3 days before joining the other chicks in bands which can run and swim when about 10 days old.
Flamingo chicks are covered in gray down and their bills are straight. Until its bill has developed the characteristic sickle shape, the chick is unable to feed itself and has to rely on its parents. To feed a chick the parent stands behind it and lowers its neck so the chick may take the tip of its bill in its own. The adult regurgitates food which runs down into the chick's mouth.
Parent flamingos are able to recognize their own chicks, even when they are among a dense crowd of other chicks. Crowds of chicks are always accompanied by adults who lead them away from danger.
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This page was last updated on June 15, 2017.