All About Flamingos: What They Eat, Where to Find Them and More
Between their bright pink feathers and the fact that they have legs for days, it’s no surprise that flamingo fans consider these creatures some of the flashiest birds on the planet. A group of flamingos is collectively known as a “flamboyance,” and even their name comes from a Latin word meaning “flame,” so they really do live up to their glamorous reputation. But these bewitching birds aren’t all just looks — they’re actually pretty and pretty fascinating. Ready to find out why? Read on to discover a set of fun facts all about flamingos as we delve into where they live, what they eat and even how they get their trademark pink feathers.
Flamingos Really (Kind Of) Are What They Eat
You might be surprised to learn that, when flamingo chicks first hatch, they’re actually born with white or dull grey feathers; they’re not the vibrant pink we associate with these famous birds. The adult flamingo’s signature pink coloring all comes down to diet. Flamingos love to dine on shrimp, other crustaceans and algae, all of which are rich in a compound called beta carotene.
Beta carotene contains a pigment called carotenoid, which is red-orange in color. Because flamingos consume so much of it, their bodies absorb the pigments, which eventually turn their feathers pink over time.
Flamingos have also developed a special curved beak that allows them to filter feed with their heads upside down. They use their beaks like fishing nets to scoop up water that contains food, then they push the water out of their mouths with their tongues while keeping the food trapped inside.
Baby Flamingos Don’t Look Very Flamingo-Like
Flamingos tend to be very social birds and travel in large colonies, which can range from 50 to thousands of members. When it comes to reproducing, female flamingos only lay one egg a year in their own little volcano-shaped nests made of mud.
All flamingo mothers-to-be lay their eggs at the same time, however, so their chicks can all grow up together. Male flamingos are supportive and join in the process of looking after both their eggs and their newborn chicks.
When a flamingo baby hatches, it’s not yet pink, nor will have developed the signature curved bill of its relatives. Flamingo chicks are born with short, straight bills that don’t start to curve downward until they’re about 11 weeks old.
Flamingos Use Social Cues to Communicate
Given that all of the flamingo chicks in a group tend to hatch at roughly the same time, how do flamingo babies recognize their parents? Flamingo chicks are capable of recognizing their mother’s and father’s distinct clucks, similar to the way human babies recognize their parents’ voices. Likewise, flamingo parents can also pick up on their chick’s particular vocal frequency, even in large groups.
But flamingos also have several distinct means of non-verbal communication, some of which are really fun to watch. Perhaps among the most famous is the flamingo mating dance, in which a large number of male flamingos all get together to strut their stuff.
Often hilariously set to music in online videos, the flamingo mating march is a sight to behold. The males all stride together in a large group, twisting their heads back and forth and preening themselves as they allow the females to feast their eyes on some impressive dance moves.
You Can See Flamingos in the Wild Around the World
While you probably know you can see flamingos in a zoo or nature preserve, where might you come across them in the wild? This all depends on the type you’re looking for, as there are actually six different species of flamingos. These include:
- Andean Flamingos
- Caribbean Flamingos
- Chilean Flamingos
- Greater Flamingos
- Lesser Flamingos
- Puna Flamingos
All flamingos prefer tropical and subtropical climates but are native to different countries around the world. South America is home to three of these species, including Chilean, Andean and Puna flamingos. Caribbean flamingos, also known as American flamingos, can also be found in Mexico, on the northernmost tip of South America and (perhaps unsurprisingly) in the Caribbean.
Greater flamingos live throughout the Middle East and Africa, while Lesser flamingos stick to Africa alone. Flamingos can migrate up to 50 miles in search of food, and some rare groups have been known to end up in Europe on occasion.
Some Flamingos Prefer Hardcore Habitats
As far as their preferred habitats go, flamingos tend to flock to the shallow waters of lagoons that they can wade into with their long legs in search of food. Scientists have been amazed to observe that some flamingos even venture into areas where no other animals dare to tread.
Flamingos have been known to enjoy a monopoly on certain bodies of incredibly salty water called “soda lakes.” Due to their super-alkaline nature, many of these lakes are toxic to humans and other animals. But the flamingo, it seems, does not care.
Over time, flamingos have developed very tough leg skin and scales that allow them to wade right into the toxic waters with no ill effects. There, they feast on certain types of algae and plants that could prove poisonous to most other creatures. Flamingos don’t tend to be shy about taking advantage of these adaptations and enjoy chowing down on algae buffets without interruption from any other creatures.
Flamingo Legs Don’t Actually Bend Backward
One common misconception about flamingos is that their legs bend backward. As it turns out, the joint you can see about midway up their legs is actually their ankle. Technically speaking, flamingos walk around on their toes, which only adds to the illusion. Their knees are actually located much higher up their legs and are so close to their bodies that they’re hidden beneath feathers.
Scientists have also long been fascinated with why and how flamingos are able to sleep while balancing on one leg. While they don’t know for sure, one theory tends to prevail. As explained by zoologist Dr. Paul Rose, “Believe it or not, flamingos are more stable for long periods of time on one leg than they are on two. This is because the ligaments and tendons in their legs can be locked in position – and that reduces any muscular effort to stay in one place. If you’re a flamingo, you’re going to want to sleep on one leg as you can activate this locking mechanism and just stay there. Sleeping on two legs would mean constantly maintaining your balance.”