American flamingo

Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Phoenicopteridae
Genus and Species: Phoenicopterus ruber
  • large pink long-necked bird standing behind grass
  • large pink flock of long-necked, long-legged birds standing in steamy pond with snow visible in the background
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American flamingo

One of the largest species of flamingo, American flamingos are extraordinarily social birds that live in the Caribbean and along the northern coast of South America in flocks sometimes number in the thousands. A pigment in their food gives their feathers their flamboyant color.

Physical Description

Flamingos' plumage is a distinctive pink with black flight feathers along the edges of the wings. Flamingos have a slender body set on greatly elongated legs, a long, flexible neck and a small head. The bill has a characteristic downward bend. Compared with their long legs, a flamingo's feet are relatively small. The front three toes are webbed, and the back one is either tiny or missing. They walk easily and run well when threatened.

Size

The American flamingo is one of the largest species of flamingo. An average adult is 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall and weighs 4 to 8 pounds (1.8 to 3.6 kilograms).

Native Habitat

American, or Caribbean, flamingos are distributed throughout the Caribbean Islands and along the northern coast of South America. American flamingos usually live in the shallows of salt or brackish water or alkaline lakes.

Communication

Breeding displays occur in large groups with sometimes thousands of individuals opening their wings or lifting up and turning their heads in one vast, synchronized movement. Theses group displays seem to bring all the birds of the colony to the same readiness to mate, to ensure rapid, synchronized egg laying as soon as conditions allow.

Food/Eating Habits

These flamingos eat algae, small seeds and aquatic invertebrates such as brine, fly larvae, shrimp and mollusks. Flamingos usually feed while wading in shallows, using its feet to stir up mud on the bottom. To feed, it puts its head to the surface (so that its bill is upside down and the tip points backward) and sweeps its head from side to side. By a rapid action of the tongue, it pumps water in and out of the slightly opened bill. The way in which the upper and lower parts of the bill fit together, combined with the comb-like plates on the bill's edges, make it a useful tool for sieving food from water.

At the Zoo, they are fed a diet of nutritionally balanced flamingo pellets.

Social Structure

Flamingos are very social birds with flocks numbering in the thousands.

Reproduction and Development

Flamingos have no set breeding season because breeding is highly linked to rainfall levels, which must be high enough to provide adequate food supplies. Flamingo pairs are monogamous and both parents help build a volcano-shaped nest, where they lay a single egg that they then incubate for about 28 days.

Chicks hatch covered with white down, taking several years and molts to become pink. The parents care for their young for the first week or two. Once a young flamingo is able to walk and swim, it joins a creche, or group of young flamingos. These groups can include up to 300,000 birds and are still fed by their parents but guarded by an unrelated adult.

Lifespan

American flamingos can live up to 50 years but a lifespan of 20 to 30 years is typical.

While flamingos are an abundant bird species, major threats such as habitat loss due to mineral mining and human disturbance threaten the species. About 80,000 to 90,000 American flamingos, concentrated in four major breeding colonies, remain in the wild.