Flamingos, The Beauties of The Lakes.
Flamingos are a familiar sight even to those who have never seen one in real life. The tropical wading birds have long legs with backward-bending knees, long curvy necks, and most noticeably, they are pink. We all admire flamingos although very few of the non-professional bird watchers will understand them, so we may as well learn something about them. Adult flamingos are four to five feet tall, but only weigh between four and eight pounds. That’s the kind of astonishing body density is needed for flight.
The color pink comes from beta-carotene in the crustaceans and plankton that flamingos eat. Zoo flamingos will turn white if their diet is not supplemented with live shrimp or flamingo chow containing carotenoid pigments. Even though there are only six species of flamingos in the world, birders and non-birders alike can instantly recognize these flamboyant birds. These distinctive wading birds are some of the most unique in the world, though each species has its own special characteristics. They are so distinct, it doesn’t take a birder to know when a bird is a flamingo. But what makes these birds so unique and different?
- American (Caribbean) Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
- Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus)
- Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis)
- Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
- Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)
- Puna (James’s) Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi)
Flamingos are all members of the Phoenicopteridae bird family, and they are the only birds that belong to that family. Their closest relatives are ibises and spoonbills, but they are also related to ducks, geese, grebes and even doves and sandgrouse. These birds are characterized by very long, thin necks as well as long, thin legs. Their heads are relatively small, but their bills are large, heavy and have a distinctive crook or break. Young flamingos have straight bills but the break develops as they mature.
Flamingos are known for their pink plumage, but actually not all flamingos are pink. The pink coloration comes from carotenoid pigments in the birds’ diet. When flamingos have a diet lacking those ingested pigments, the birds will be gray or white instead. Depending on what these birds eat, they may also have orange feathers, and many flamingos have some black plumage on their wings.
These are wading birds, and are always found around water sources. Though flamingos can swim quite well, they are more likely to walk through water as they feed, bending their necks downward to reach the water. While feeding, they strain water through the lamellae in their bills to filter out insects, brine shrimp, algae and other food.
Flamingos are one of the few types of birds that feed their young hatchlings crop milk. While not milk produced from mammary glands like the milk of mammals, crop milk is a highly nutritious substance that nourishes very young flamingos before they begin to feed themselves. Pigeons, doves and some penguins also produce crop milk for their chicks.
Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay only a single egg each year. If that egg is lost or damaged, they do not typically lay a replacement. If a flamingo colony is ransacked by predators or hit with a natural disaster, it can take several years for the birds to recover and for their population to grow again.