Friday, August 3, 2018

Fun Flamingo Facts

 Flamingos are one of the worlds most recognized birds - even if you have never stepped foot in the ocean! The long curvy necks, backward-bending knees, yellow and black bills - and of course their distinctive pink color make this tropical wading bird a favorite of zoos (and lawns) everywhere. But more on that later.

There are six different species of flamingos however, it takes a expert eye to tell the species apart. The Andean, puna, Chilean and American flamingos are all residents of South America. Both the lesser and greater flamingos are found in large numbers in Africa. During the breeding season, greater and lesser flamingos regularly migrate to the Middle East. Near the Mediterranean greater flamingos can be found in the wild along the southern Mediterranean Sea.

Adult flamingos stand four to six feet tall and weigh between four and eight pounds. This surprising lack of body weight is needed for the birds to be able to take flight.

The feathers under their wings, known as flight feathers, are black however, these feathers can only be seen when the birds are flying.

Flamingos feed in muddy flats and shallow water stirring up mud with their long legs and webbed feet. Reaching down, they bury their bills (and sometimes their entire head) into the water gathering up a scoopful of mud and water. A flamingo's beak is designed to remove food before the liquid is expelled.  

One of the questions we are often asked is why do flamingos stand on one leg? Scientists have offered a number of theories but even the experts remain stumped as to why flamingos prefer standing on one leg. You can read several of the ideas here.

Did you know that a flock of flamingos is called a flamboyance? They find safety in numbers, which helps protect individual birds from predators while their heads are down in the mud. In the wild, a colony can number up to several hundred birds. You can see this on a smaller scale at the flamingo exhibit at Wildwood Wildlife Park. The different species of flamingos have their own distinct communal mating rituals. You can read about the individual mating dances here.

The flamingos signature pink color is derived from beta-carotene found in the crustaceans and plankton the birds feed on. Flamingos in zoos will turn white if their diet is not supplemented with live shrimp or flamingo chow that contains the carotenoid pigments.

Known as the seventh species of flamingos, the plastic lawn flamingo (Phoenicopterus plasticus) was introduced in 1957 by Don Featherstone and soon became an American cultural icon. In the 21st century the plastic lawn flamingo was considered endangered. Efforts continue today to revive the art form and in 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named Phoenicopterus plasticus the city's official bird.

Phoenicopterus plasticus photo by Flickr user Kim Kruse