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Flamingos live near water, where they use their long legs to wade deeper than most water birds. The birds often stand on one leg to conserve body heat. They may spend up to a third of their day preening, which spreads oil evenly over their feathers for waterproofing. They can travel long distances, more than 300 miles a day, to get to different feeding sites.
During the breeding season, flamingos gather in huge colonies that range in size from about 5,000 to 100,000 birds, depending on the location and year. The birds perform displays to attract a mating partner, dancing in a sequence of moves. They might march, flag their outstretched heads back and forth, or salute with spread wings. Outside of the breeding season, flamingos live in groups of anywhere from just a dozen to several hundred birds.
Caribbean flamingos mostly eat mollusks, bivalves, and in some places, plants. They will also eat small fish and brine shrimp when they’re available. They rarely eat alone and prefer to feed during the day. Certain algae are chock-full of carotenoid pigments, which give the birds their signature pink coloring. To filter these tiny creatures from the muddy water, a flamingo stands in the shallows and dips its long, slender bill in upside-down, moving its head side to side.
Flamingo parenting is a two-bird job. Within a colony, breeding occurs in waves, so chicks born at the same time are raised in a nursery-like setting. Each pair begins building up a mound of mud to use as a nest up to six weeks before the female lays her egg. The male and female share incubation duties for about one month. Parents use vocalizations to recognize their chicks. Chicks rely on their parents for a diet of “crop milk,” a thick fluid that both males and females produce. By 12 weeks of age, they can feed themselves. Flamingo chicks have white feathers when they hatch that are gradually replaced with gray. The birds don’t get their characteristic pink feathers until one to three years of age. They are ready to breed at about six years of age. They can live for up to 40 years in zoos, but their lifespan in the wild is closer to 30.
Some of My Neighbors
Jaguars, white-lipped peccaries, tapirs, scarlet macaws, bats, marine turtles
Population Status & Threats
The Caribbean flamingo is not considered threatened, though the population is being monitored. Its Chilean cousin is near threatened because of egg harvesting and habitat loss caused by irrigation systems.
WCS Conservation Efforts
The Wildlife Conservation Society studies and protects wild flamingos in the remote and threatened wetlands of the Caribbean and South America. WCS scientists use satellite technology in order to track flamingo movements and study how the birds use their habitat. In South America, WCS researcher Dr. Felicity Arengo coordinated the first-ever comprehensive count of Andean and James’ flamingos. The Bronx Zoo’s Assistant Curator of Ornithology Dr. Nancy Clum led the first archipelago-wide survey for Caribbean flamingos in the Bahamas.