There are six species of flamingos living in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe. The greater flamingo is the most widespread of all the flamingo species, living in Africa, Southern Asia, and Southern Europe. The lesser flamingo however has the greatest population, living in Africa and India. South America has three species of flamingo, the Chilean flamingo living in Chile, and James’ flamingo and the Andean flamingo living in the Andes. Lastly, the American flamingo, found in the Caribbean and on the Galapagos Islands.
Flamingos live in groups called colonies, which may have as few as 200 birds or can be as massive as one million flamingos. You did read that correctly. They can live in massive colonies of one million flamingos. They are extremely social animals and communicate through honking noises along with non-verbal communication through dances. Also interesting to note, when two species of flamingo meet one another, they tend to get along very well.
Flamingos will mate for life and both the mother and father play an important role in protecting and raising the chick. Every year each pair only has one egg. They build a nest of mud for the egg and take turns keeping it warm while the other goes to eat. After the chick hatches, the parents feed them with a milky substance full of protein and fat. It is thought that the creation of this substance is triggered by their cries of hunger. If you take notice to the flamingo chick photo on the right, flamingo chicks’ beaks aren’t curved when they hatch. They start to curve after a few months. Looking at this young flamingo without the characteristic downward curved beak and the brilliant pink feathers, you might be surprised that it is a flamingo at all. The long neck and legs as well as the webbed feet hint to the adult that this chick will become.
Flamingos are filter feeders. That means that they take in water as well as their food, which is small crustaceans and algae. If they are feeding in salt water, they then have to drink a large amount of fresh water to make up for that. When flamingos feed, their heads are actually upside down in order to filter properly. Because their heads are underwater, flamingos have to hold their breath to feed.
You will probably know that flamingos stand on one leg. They do this to rest. However, only one half of them is asleep at a time. The side that’s standing is still awake so they don’t fall over, and they have to switch sides regularly in order for both sides of their body to be rested.
Flamingos can reach 5 feet tall, although they are very light, weighing just 10 pounds. This allows them to fly, even though it looks like they wouldn’t be able to. The prefer to fly at night. When they do so, their legs are laid out behind them rather than tucked under them like other birds do. The flamingos have webbed feet which allow them to keep their balance even when standing in the mud, and also gives them the ability to swim. Their necks contain 19 vertebrae, meaning they have incredible flexibility to move their heads upside down to feed and backwards to preen.
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