Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus roseus
The visible knobby “backwards knee” that you see on the flamingo’s leg is actually the ankle. A long footbone extends down the four toes, the front three of which are webbed.
The greater flamingo is the largest and most widespread of all flamingo species.
STATUS: The greater flamingo is classified as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Many of the flocks include hundreds of thousands of birds.
HABITAT: The range of the greater flamingo includes Africa, southwest Europe, the Middle East, southwest Asia, India and Sri Lanka. Some of the flocks in the northern parts of their range migrate south in the winter. They live near shallow water, either fresh or salty lakes or coastal lagoons and river estuaries. They are tolerant of very salty water.
DIET: Flamingos are filter feeders, eating a wide variety of small arthropods like shrimp and copepods, worms, small mollusks and insect larvae. The head, with its unique bent beak, is lowered into the water and the tongue is used rapidly pump water and mud in and out of the mouth. As the water leaves the beak, small projections, called lamellae, catch the food which is then swallowed. The coloration of the flamingo results from carotenoid pigments found in their food. In the zoo, flamingos eat a special flamingo food containing canthaxanthin to maintain their color.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Greater flamingos have very long legs and necks, so they can be up to five feet tall. They weigh 9-10 lbs and have a 5 ½ foot wingspan. Their bodies are light pink with red wing coverts and black fight feathers. Greater flamingos can be distinguished from other flamingos by the bright “bubblegum” pink on their beaks. Both sexes are similar, with the males being slightly larger. Flamingos are very noisy birds with a goose-like honk both on the ground and when flying.
Flamingos are extremely gregarious and social birds with some flocks containing 250,000 birds. They breed in huge colonies, sometimes on islands in shallow water to minimize disturbance. They are monogamous. Each pair builds a cylindrical mud nest into which the female lays a single chalky shelled egg. Both parents incubate the egg alternately, which hatches in about four weeks; and it takes another ten weeks before the chick fledges. After hatching, the chick is fed “crop milk”, cells that are grown in the crops of both parents. After about one month the chick begins to eat solid food. Since the adult coloration comes from their food, the chicks are born with gray feathers. It takes three to four years to attain full adult coloration. Flamingos are strong flyers, flying in long curved lines with the neck and legs extended. Flamingos living into their 50s and 60s is not unusual.