Why are flamingos pink?
- The flamingo is more than just its bright pink plumage. Learn about these delightfully unusual birds with these 10 fun facts, some of which might surprise you!
- Flamingo pink is made of clay. A flamingo pink looks like a mini mud volcano with room for a large egg inside. Flamingos are monogamous, and mom and dad are team members. They both help build nests and hatch eggs.
- Flamingo chicks hatch with grey-white fluffy feathers and straight bills. They take several years to acquire their characteristic pink color and hook-shaped beaks.
The Smithsonian Institution National Zoo has been home to flamingos since its inception over 130 years ago. The birds have been breeding flamingos since the early 1990s and have had over 120 chicks over the years!
Flamingos get their pink color from food. Flamingos are really what they eat.
Many plants produce natural red, yellow, or orange pigments called carotenoids. Carotenoids give carrots their orange color or redden ripe tomatoes. They are also found in microscopic algae that eat brine shrimp. While the flamingo feeds on algae and brine shrimp, its body absorbs the pigments, causing its feathers to turn pink.
Flamingos are filter feeders and turn their heads to eat. The term "filter feeder" may evoke images of baleen or oyster barriers, but flamingos are also filter feeders. They eat algae, small seeds, tiny crustaceans (such as brine shrimp), fly larvae, and other plants and animals that live in shallow water.
When it's time to eat, the flamingo puts its head upside down in the water with its beak pointing towards its feet. Then move your head from side to side, using your tongue to pump water in and out of your beak. Comb plates along the edge of the spout create a filter that allows water to pass through and keeps food inside.
In hot climates, flamingos cool off when they are in the water. Birders use this natural thermoregulation to keep the zoo flock warm even in winter. The flamingo pool heats up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the birds comfortable even when it snows.
So what is the name of a group of flamingos?
A group of flamingos is called spangles. A flock of crows is called a killer, and a flock of geese is called a flock. Other collective names for flamingos include stand, colony, and stalemate.
The zoo's historic aviary may be closed for renovations, but keepers continue to care for more than 60 Caribbean flamingos (also known as American flamingos) in the background. In the wild, sometimes thousands of flamingos congregate! Scientists estimate that there are more than 200,000 Caribbean flamingos living in the wild, with populations scattered across the Bahamas and Cuba, Mexico and the southern Caribbean, and a small group of 400-500 in the Galapagos Islands.
There are six types of flamingos. In addition to the Caribbean flamingos, there are small, large, James (or Puna), Chilean and Andean flamingos. Greater flamingos are found in parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. These are the largest and tallest species of flamingos.
Chilean flamingos, Andean flamingos, and James flamingos are found only in South America. Andean flamingos are the rarest of the six species, with fewer than 40,000 individuals. Smaller flamingos are found in parts of Africa and South Asia. These are the smallest and most flamingos. There are more than 2 million smaller flamingos that light up the sky and shore with their pink plumage.
Don't let your eyes fool you - flamingo knees don't bend back! Flamingo legs actually fold in the same way as human legs. What looks like a flamingo's knee is actually its ankle. Flamingo's knees are located above the legs, hidden by the body and feathers.
Imagine a flamingo standing on tiptoe. When the leg is bent, it's the ankle that you see articulated.
Some flamingos live in extreme conditions. Flamingos usually live in shallow water that is brackish or brackish (a mixture of saltwater and freshwater). But some species of flamingos breed and raise their young in the extremely salty waters known as alkaline or "soda" lakes. The high concentrations of carbonate in these lakes are so corrosive that they can burn the skin and make most animals uninhabitable.
Researchers are still discovering unique aspects of flamingo physiology, such as the hard skin on their feet that helps them survive in such hard water. The high salt content can still be fatal to some flamingo chicks if salt rings form on their feet, making them unable to walk.
Flamingo parents feed their chicks a liquid they secrete called plant milk. The "milk" of a flamingo is produced in its crop (part of the throat) and then rises up through the mouth. It may sound unpleasant, but flamingo milk is loaded with protein and healthy fats. Both parents can produce harvested milk to feed the flamingo chick until it is old enough to eat on its own.
You may be used to seeing flamingos in groups on the ground, but they can also fly. Some flamingos travel to breed, migrating to new bodies of water as the seasons change, or to warmer, lower areas in winter. If flamingos travel long distances, they usually pass by at night.
But why would they do this?
- Flamingos can sleep standing on one leg. Flamingos can stand on one leg for long periods of time and can even fall asleep.
- Studies show that flamingos use more muscle strength when they stand on two legs, so standing on one leg may be less tiring. Scientists also believe that the one-legged stand may help flamingos keep warm.
- Birds emit body heat through their limbs. By standing on one leg and tucking the other under the abdomen, flamingos can limit the heat generated by their legs and feet.
Are you looking for more fun with flamingos?
This article appeared in the July 2021 issue of National Zoo News. Birds: The Smithsonian Coloring Book invites bird lovers of all ages to unleash their creativity by learning more about the feathered world with fun facts from our experts.
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