Flamingos are the most instantly recognizable wading birds in the world, but what makes them so special that they capture the hearts of birders and non-birders alike? These fun flamingo facts and trivia may surprise you!
- There are only six species of flamingos in the world, though several of those species have subspecies divisions and could eventually be split into different unique species. All flamingos belong to the bird family Phoenicopteridae, and they are the only members of that scientific bird family.
- Flamingos are found around the world from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. They are also popular guests in many zoos, aviaries, aquariums, marine parks, and botanical gardens well outside their native ranges. Occasional escaped flamingos often make headlines among birders or on local news networks.
- The word "flamingo" comes from the Spanish and Latin word "flamenco" which means fire, and refers to the bright color of the birds' feathers. Not all flamingos are brightly colored, however, and some of the birds are mostly gray or white. The strength of a flamingo's coloration comes from its diet. Younger birds also have less coloration.
- While flamingos are considered wading birds, the same classification as herons, egrets, spoonbills, and cranes, they are most closely related to grebes genetically.
- Flamingos are strong but rare swimmers and powerful fliers, even though they're most often seen just wading. Flamingos do fly very well, however, and many flamingos migrate or regularly fly between the best food sources and nesting grounds.
- When flying in a flock, the top speed of a flamingo can be as high as 35 miles per hour (56 kilometers per hour). They can seem ungainly or clumsy in flight, however, because their long necks stretch out in front of their bodies and their long legs dangle well past their short tails, giving them a wobbly or clumsy appearance.
- Flamingos hold their bent bills upside down while feeding, often for several hours a day, so they can filter out their food while skimming the water. They may seem to nibble or scoop at the surface of the water as they strain out small bits of algae, plant material, insects, brine shrimp, and other foods that make up their omnivorous diet.
- A flamingo chick's bill is small and straight, without any distinct color patches. After a few months, their growing bills will develop the distinct "break" curve and they will be eating mostly on their own.
- Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay only a single egg each year. If that egg is lost, stolen, damaged, or other wise does not hatch, they do not typically lay a replacement. If a flamingo colony is ransacked by predators or hit with a natural disaster, it can take several years for the birds to recover and for their population to grow again.
- Parent flamingos feed their chicks exclusively crop milk for 5-12 days after hatching. After that time, the chicks do begin to forage on their own, though young flamingos may continue to eat crop milk for up to two months as their bills develop. This high fat, high protein substance is not like mammalian milk, but is excellent nutrition for growing chicks. Parent flamingos produce crop milk in their digestive tracts and regurgitate it to feed their young.
- Flamingo chicks are born gray or white and take up to three years to reach their mature pink, orange, or red plumage. Their young feathers are much less structured and fluffier than adult plumage, but that down provides excellent insulation to help keep baby flamingos warm.
- The pink, orange, or red color of a flamingo's feathers is caused by carotenoid pigments in their food, the same pigments that make tomatoes red and carrots orange. A wild flamingo's diet includes shrimp, plankton, algae, and crustaceans skimmed from different water sources. If those food sources do not provide enough pigmentation, flamingos may seem more gray or white, but they are still healthy and strong. In zoos and aviaries, captive flamingos are often fed a specialized diet that will help preserve and enhance their unique coloration.
- The greater flamingo is the largest flamingo species and can measure up to five feet tall when standing erect with its head raised, but only weighs a maximum of eight pounds. The lesser flamingo is the smallest flamingo and can reach three feet tall and typically weighs 3-6 pounds.
- An adult flamingo's legs can be 30-50 inches long, which is longer than its entire body. Flamingos often stand on one leg to preserve body heat, tucking the other leg into their plumage so it is kept warm. They will alternate legs to regulate their body temperature.
- The backward bending "knee" of a flamingo's leg is actually the bird's ankle. The actual knee is very close to the body and is not visible through the bird's plumage.
- Flamingos are gregarious birds that do not do well in very small flocks of just a few birds. While a typical flock is only several dozen birds, flocks of up to a million or more have been recorded. Flamingos use these tremendous flocks as a safety measure against predators, and larger flocks are more stable for population growth and breeding success.
- A flock of flamingos is called a stand, colony, regiment, or flamboyance. These terms can apply to a flamingo flock of any size, but do not apply to just a pair of flamingos or one bird by itself.
- Flamingos have a wild lifespan of 20-30 years, but in captivity have been recorded as living up to 50 years or longer. Captive flamingos typically live longer because they are not subject to predators, poachers, or other threats, and they receive excellent veterinary care and abundant food.
- The Andean flamingo is the most threatened of all flamingo species. Habitat preservation will be critical to keep these birds thriving in the wild, and captive breeding programs can help supplement wild populations.
- The most prominent threats to flamingos include predators, habitat loss, and illegal poaching for decorative feathers. In some areas, humans illegally hunt flamingos to gather eggs as food or to harvest their tongues as meat.
- Don Featherstone of Massachusetts invented the pink plastic lawn flamingo, which has been gracing lawns since 1957. The "official" pink flamingo is from Union Products, though the patents and official molds for the classic lawn birds have been transferred to different companies. These birds are still in production today and now there are more plastic flamingos in America than there are real ones.