20 Fun Facts About Flamingos

Fascinating Flamingo Trivia

Flamingo Pair

Omar Bariffi / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Flamingos are one of the most instantly recognizable wading birds in the world. Most have bright pink feathers, lengthy stick-like legs, and long, "S-curving" necks. Since these birds are rare outside of tropical locales and zoos, people often wonder how these elegant birds get their color, why they stand on one leg, and if they can fly. Read on to learn some fun flamingo facts and trivia that may surprise you.

What is a Flamingo?

There are six species of flamingo, all belonging to the Phoenicopterus genus. They are water-dwelling, tropical birds. Some are known for their red and pink feathers, while others have white or gray plumage. They have a comical profile, often seen standing on just one foot. Though often observed standing or wading, they are also capable fliers.

Flamingo Trivia

Flamingos are a unique bird—hard to confuse for any other type of waterfowl. Their color and size, their stance, and their association with warm tropics are some of the most significant characteristics that people have come to appreciate about them.

Physical Characteristics

  • The word "flamingo" comes from the Spanish and Latin word "flamenco," meaning fire, referring to those birds that get fiery-colored feathers (not all do).
  • Pink, orange, or red feathers are caused by carotene in their food. Carotene is the same pigment that makes tomatoes red and carrots orange. A wild flamingo's diet includes shrimp, plankton, algae, and crustaceans.
  • Flamingo chicks are born gray or white with fluffier plumage to keep them warm. It can take up to three years to achieve mature pink, orange, or red plumage.
  • The greater flamingo is the largest flamingo species and can measure up to 5-feet tall when standing erect with its head raised. It only weighs about eight pounds. The lesser flamingo is the smallest, reaching 3-feet tall and typically 3 to 6 pounds.
  • An adult flamingo's legs can be 30- to 50-inches long—longer than its entire body. Flamingos often stand on one leg to preserve body heat, tucking the other leg into their warm plumage. They will alternate legs to regulate their body temperature.
  • The backward bending "knee" of a flamingo's leg is the bird's ankle. The bird's knee is close to the body and not visible through the bird's plumage.
  • Flamingos are strong but rare swimmers and powerful fliers. Many flamingos migrate or regularly fly between the best food sources and nesting grounds.

Feeding Habits

  • Flamingos eat for several hours a day, holding their bent bills upside down while feeding. They skim and filter out food from the water, straining out tiny bits of algae, plant material, insects, brine shrimp, and other foods that make up their omnivorous diet.
  • After hatching, parent flamingos feed their chicks exclusively crop milk for five to 12 days. It is a regurgitated high-fat, high-protein substance produced in the parent's digestive system.
  • A flamingo chick's bill is small and straight. After a few months, their growing bills will develop a distinctive "break" curve for mainly eating on their own.

Flock Behavior

  • A flock of flamingos is called a stand, colony, regiment, or flamboyance, applying to a flock of more than two birds.
  • There are only six species of flamingos in the world, and several have subspecies divisions. All flamingos belong to the Phoenicopteridae family.
  • Flamingos are gregarious birds that prefer larger flocks. A typical flock is several dozen birds, but flocks of up to a million have been recorded. Large flocks are a safety measure against predators, offer stable population growth, and breeding success.
  • A flamingo's top speed can be as high as 35 miles per hour. They may appear clumsy in flight because of their long necks and dangling legs, making them seem wobbly.
  • Flamingos are monogamous birds, laying only a single egg each year, typically not laying a replacement egg if something happens to it. Disruption from predators or a natural disaster can take a colony several years to rebound from.

illustration of fun facts about flamingos
Illustration: Kelly Miller. © The Spruce, 2019 

Miscellaneous

  • Flamingos are found worldwide from the Caribbean and South America to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe in wet habitats from freshwater to saltwater, including mudflats, lakes, coastal lagoons, and marshlands.
  • While flamingos are classified as wading birds, like herons, egrets, spoonbills, and cranes, they are genetically closer to grebes, an aquatic diving waterfowl.
  • Flamingos have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years in the wild. With veterinary care, a regular diet, and fewer predatory threats, flamingos can live up to 50 years in captivity.
  • The Andean flamingo is the most threatened of all flamingo species due to the loss of its habitat.
  • Other significant threats to flamingos in the wild include predators, illegal poaching for their feathers, and hunting for their eggs or tongues as a delicacy.
  • There are more plastic flamingos in America than there are real ones. Don Featherstone of Massachusetts invented the pink plastic lawn flamingo, gracing lawns since 1957. The "official" pink flamingo is from Union Products.