Flamingo Fun Facts
Interesting Facts About The Flame Colored Quirky Birds
Flamingos are iconic with spindly legs, long elegant necks, large curved bills, and brilliantly pink to orange-red colored feathers and are extremely fascinating, charming birds.
The name “flamingo” is derived from Spanish and means “flame-colored”.
A flock of flamingos is called a “flamboyance”.
Flamingos have backward bending knees. However the knee is actually the bird’s ankle. The actual knee is close to its body and hidden beneath the bird’s plumage.
Flamingos are social birds and tend to live in colonies with numbers in the thousands.
Adult flamingos are 4 – 5 feet (1.2 – 1.5 m) tall and weigh 4 to 8 pounds (1.8 – 3.8 kg).
Flamingos live 20 - 30 years in the wild and up to 50 years in a zoo.
There are six distinct species of flamingo in the world.
According to the fossil record, flamingos were once widespread.
The American Flamingo is the only flamingo that naturally inhabits North America.
Flamingos are native to Florida. See below for details.
The American Flamingo is the most vibrantly colored of the species.
When flamingos migrate, they prefer to fly during the night. Flamingos can fly about 35 mph (56 kph) and travel about 373 miles (600 km) in one night.
Flamingos are wading birds and live in mudflats, lagoons, and salt marshes where they can find food in shallow water.
Flamingos embody the saying “you are what you eat” in that their pink/peach color is derived from their diet.
Flamingos are omnivores. Their diet consists of crustaceans, brine shrimp, blue-green and red algae, plankton, small fish, snails, mollusks, and small insects.
Flamingos are filter feeders and hold their bent bills upside down while feeding so they can strain out their food from the muddy waters.
Flamingos are monogamous.
Flamingos build nests on the ground that look like a big mound of dirt. The female lays a single egg in a shallow depression in the mound.
Both parents incubate the egg for about one month.
Both parents feed the flamingo chick with a liquid the parents produce called crop milk for the first 5 – 12 days. Then the parents feed their offspring with regurgitated flamingo food.
Baby flamingos are born with gray or white feathers. They develop the bright pink color after about 2 - 3 years.
The flamingo chick’s bill is small and straight.
The flamingo is the national bird of the Bahamas.
There is a candy called Flamingo Poop and it’s pink.
Plastic lawn flamingos were introduced in 1957 by the artist Don Featherstone and became an American cultural icon.
MORE DETAILS ON FLAMINGO DIET AND HOW THEY FEED
Flamingos are most often observed wading in small lagoons with shallow waters. They feed mostly on algae, shrimps, and other aquatic invertebrates by filtering them out from the water. Dangling their head upside down in the water, their down curved bill is then parallel with the bottom pointing backwards. They swing their heads in a sideway motion and using their tongue as a pump, suck in water with the food. The tongue then squeezes the water against the bill with its rows of lamellae (comb-like structures). The tiny prey get trapped inside the mouth while the water can escape. Flamingos can spend many hours with their heads submerged in water.
One of their most distinct feature is the beautiful pink to reddish color of their plumage. That is obtained in adulthood as young birds are still mostly missing it. The color is acquired and later maintained by a carotene rich diet of aquatic invertebrates. Also the algae are loaded with beta carotene which contains a reddish orange pigment.
You can discern the health and quality of the flamingo diet by the color of their feathers. When food is plentiful and the food is high in carotenoid pigments, the plumage is very vivid and brightly colored. For example, American flamingos are usually bright pink or orange while the lesser flamingos of the drought plagued Lake Nakuru in central Kenya tend to be a pale pink.
THE BIG DEBATE: ARE FLAMINGOS NATIVE TO FLORIDA?
Since it is extremely rare to see flamingos in the wild in Florida, it was believed that they were not native. Most believed the rare sightings were vagrants from the Bahamas, Cuba, or the Yucatan where there are large flamingo populations.
In 2012, a rare flock of flamingos was found in Lake Ingraham, a remote lake in the Everglades. This discovery launched an extensive study that involved using a satellite tracker that was attached to an orphaned flamingo found at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station. This flamingo became known as Conchy. The scientists believed that Conchy would return to his ‘homeland’ to mate. The scientists expected as the previous theories believed that the wild flamingos spotted in southern Florida were only vagrants or visitors from nearby countries. However, the tracker showed that Conchy lived year round in the lagoons in the interiors of mangrove islands in the Everglades and they discovered he was not alone. These remote areas kept the flamingos hidden from sight. These observations provided evidence that flamingos live in southern Florida and are mating and nesting. In addition to the tracking of Conchy for years, the scientists delved into the historical records.
In 1827 the first documented sighting of flamingos in Florida, north of Tampa near the Anclote Keys. Then in 1832, famed naturalist John James Audubon spotted a flock near Indian Key, an island off Islamorada. Over the next 60 years, there were many sightings of flocks ranging from hundreds of flamingos to thousands in Florida. The pink plumed birds were hunted for their colorful feathers until they were almost completely wiped out in Florida. The last reported sighting of a flock was in 1902. The historical records show that hundreds and thousands of flamingos were living in the Florida in the 1800’s before they were hunted to almost extinction in this state. Were those early flamingos vagrants or natives?
This extensive study examined DNA samples and flamingo eggs found in museum collections. The research found that the birds were nesting in Florida in the 1800’s, another indication of their domicile and further evidence that the flamingos spotted in Florida in the 19th century were native.
In 2018, the data and conclusions of this extensive multiyear and multifaceted study was published in the American Ornithological Society’s journal The Condor. The study concluded that flamingos are native to Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has updated the status of flamingos to native species.
FLAMINGOS IN THE WILD
I’ve had the pleasure of viewing flamingos on three continents: Africa, South America, North America. The first time I saw wild flamingos was at Lake Nakuru in Kenya in 2011. It was my first safari and every animal I saw was a mind blowing, one of a kind experience including the pink plumed leggy wading birds. Our tour group was divided into 3 minivans that had pop-up roofs so that we could view the animals unobstructed in our own little protective ‘cage’. Our van was the last to arrive at the shore of Lake Nakuru and my fellow tripmates were bubbling with enthusiasm over the hundreds of Lesser Flamingos wading in the shallow lake. I was still reeling from seeing my first rhinoceros and a troop of mean looking baboons. And then as I viewed the pink dotted lake, time seemed to stop. It was such a surreal moment with the lovely backdrop of the green mountains of the Rift Valley in the background and the absolute quiet (except for several of my fellow explorers excitingly talking…however those were the few that never stopped talking. LOL). The Lesser Flamingos were a pale pink. Lesser Flamingos do not have bright coral, red-orange colored feathers even when they consume a diet rich in carotenoids. Instead, they tend to be bright pink with a healthy diet.
The second time I saw flamingos in the wild was on another ‘safari’…an adventure to the Galapagos (Ecuador, South America). One day of the tour we spent exploring Floreana Island. We landed the Zodiak at Cormorant Point and hiked to a green olivine sand beach, which was the first green sand beach I had ever seen. It’s sort of like an army green color. Very unique! FYI, there are only 4 green sand beaches in the world: Galapagos, Hawaii, Guam, and Norway. Then we hiked up a ridge to overlook a beautiful lagoon with a small flamboyance of flamingos. Our awesome naturalist guide, Marcella, who was born and raised in the Galapagos, taught us a great deal about these birds, which I have shared much information in the Fun Facts. These flamingos are the Greater Flamingos and they are almost as brightly colored as the American Flamingos.
The third continent, North America, where I’ve seen flamingos is in the United States in the state of Florida at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. These American Flamingos are not wild. However, I was able to see them up close and feed them by hand and that was a special treat. For my blog post about my amazing experience at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, click here.
Where have you seen flamingos? Comment below.