Flamingo's - Think Pink (And Orange!)
They have longer legs and longer necks than any other birds!
Sometimes when someone mentions "Flamingos" we think of the tacky, and humorous yard decorations that can be found in the yards of some folks! These are especially popular when someone reaches a "milestone" birthday, along with a sign that says "you've been flocked!"
When I think of flamingo's, I remember trips to the ZOO as a child, and being fascinated with these beautiful water birds! The flamingo area is still one of my favorite parts of any zoo trip today. They are such beautiful birds!
Flamingo's come in striking shades of pinks and oranges, and their color is due to their diet of algae and crustaceans. Both are rich sources of carotenoid pigments (like the pigments that are found in carrots). They love to eat brine shrimp (ok, so being a shrimp lover myself, I can totally relate!) Maybe I was a flamingo in a past life?
They have pretty distinctive feeding habits. Their beak actually forms a "hook" shape, and is held upside down in the water. Each half of the flamingo's beak is covered with fine "hairs" and lined with rows of flexible plates. These act as a "filter" to filter out only the food they need, everything else goes back into the water. It's a pretty amazing piece of evolutionary creation! In addition, there is a sharp "kink" in their bill to make sure they don't take in too much water. Nature is amazing in this way... allowing species to survive for centuries.
The average flamingo can reach a height of 42 inches. Males sometimes will grow even taller. And their average weight is only about 6 pounds. We have CATS that weigh more than a flamingo does! Their wingspan is 3.3 to 5 feet and in the wild they can live 20 to 30 years. In captivity they can live as long as 50 years! At the San Diego zoo, there is a male flamingo that is 53 years old!
Flamingo's are very social creatures and they are often found in large groups in the wild, especially in parts of East Africa. Many flamingo's are seen at Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. They can also be found in huge numbers in a lake at the bottom of Ngorongoro Crater, and in parts of Namibia and Botswana. They can be very flamboyant and gregarious as well! Sometimes they will move about in rows and chains, in a large group, looking almost like a line of Las Vegas showgirls dancing!
They can sleep standing up, balancing on one leg. It is believed, but has never been proven, that they have a way of having one half of their body asleep at a time, then they "switch" legs to let the other half of their body sleep! If indeed this IS how they sleep, it is pretty amazing.
Their orange or pink color is very important for stimulating reproduction, and a male and female will often stay together for years. They will lay just one egg at a time, and the nest is made of rocks and mud. They take turns caring for the egg, "incubating" it, until it hatches, and either the male or female can feed the chick as well.Once the chick hatches, it will take about 31 days to mature enough to go out on his own. Baby flamingo's are grayish and sometimes almost white at birth, they will get their pink or orange color and black legs when they are 2 to 3 years old.
There are five species of flamingo's, and three of them reside in South America - these are the Chilean, the Andean, and the Puna. The "Lesser" flamingo lives in a range across Africa, but have been found in Arabia and India as well. The "Greater" flamingo is found on five continents. They are considered to be one of the most ancient species of birds.
Their feet are webbed, to prevent them from sinking into the mud while searching for food. They can fly as well, but usually need a running start and need to "catch the wind" before they can do that. They will most often be found in large groups, because of their social nature more than anything. They have very few natural predators because of their tendency to wade in muddy areas that are without a lot of vegetation. They can swim, too - they do a "paddle" type of swimming in any body of water.
They have certain rituals they perform that are basically their own, such as "head flagging"... stretching their neck with their head up and waving it side to side. They are also known for a type of "wing salute" to show off their contrasting colors, they can twist and preen by twisting their neck back and "preening" their feathers. Another behavior unique to flamingo's is marching, walking in a large pack as one... then switching their direction quickly!
They are some of the most fascinating and interesting birds on the planet! If you are ever in Las Vegas, be sure to stop by the "Flamingo" hotel on the strip. They have an outdoor flamingo habitat there that is very nice, and sometimes, you can even catch some of the "Flamingo" showgirls outside of the hotel. We even have a "Flamingo Road" here in Las Vegas! Many of the roads here are named after the hotels that you find on Las Vegas Boulevard that intersect with them.