- Name: Greater flamingo
- Latin: Phoenicopterus roseus
- Classification: Bird
- Origin: Africa, South America
- Lifespan: Up to 40 years
- Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
- Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
- Class: Aves (birds)
- Order: Phoenicopteriformes (‘purple’ ‘wing’)
- Family: Pheonicopteridae (flamingo)
- Genus: Phoenicopterus (flamingo)
- Species: Phoenicopterus roseus (greater flamingo)
- Height: 110-150cm (43-60in)
- Weight: 2-4kg (4.4-8.8lbs)
- Wingspan: 95-100cm (37-39in)
The greater flamingo is the tallest species of flamingo with legs longer than its body (measuring 80-125cm (31.5-49in)). The ankle is located about halfway up the leg and the knee is so close to the body it isn’t externally visible. The males are slightly larger than the females.
This bird has a characteristic long, curved neck and a black tipped bill with a distinctive downward bend. The plumage colour varies from pale pink to crimson and its colouration is derived from carotenoids pigments found in their diet of shrimp and other crustaceans. The newly hatched young are grey or white and take one-two years to obtain adult colouration.
- Caribbean flamingo (Pheonicopterus ruber) -LEAST CONCERN-
- Andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus) -VULNERABLE-
- James’ flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) -NEAR THREATENED-
- Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) -NEAR THREATENED-
Habitat & Distribution
The greater flamingo has the most widespread distribution of all flamingo species. They can be found in Northwest India, Africa, the western Mediterranean and the Middle East. Large flocks of these birds can found in large alkaline or saline lakes or estuarine lagoons lacking vegetation. They also inhabit mangrove swamps, tidal flats and sandy islands.
Greater flamingo are filter feeders and sucks water through its bills to filter out food such as small shrimp, seeds, algae, molluscs, insects and microscopic organisms. It first stirs up the mud by stomping its feet and then fully submerges its head upside down in the water to begin the filtering process (a flamingo can keep its head underwater for up to 20 seconds). They then pump their tongue up and down 5-6 times a second to push water back out of its bill, leaving any traces of food remaining. Greater flamingos will also swim out to deeper water and upend like a duck to reach food.
The flamingo’s food contains carotenoid pigments which are broken down in the liver and deposited into the feathers, skin and egg yolk. This is what gives the bird its pink plumage.
Greater flamingos are very social birds; colonies of tens of thousands of birds are common. They are also very vocal and have a number of different calls. When flying they are often mistaken for geese because of the honking noises they make and chicks can make calls while still inside its egg. Flamingos will often move from place to place during the night to areas of fresh food supplies.
These birds are active throughout day and night and daily activities include preening, feeding, resting and bathing. Greater flamingos are capable of swimming and bathe in shallow water, often submerging the whole body. These flamingos spend about 15-30% of the day preening their feathers, distributing oil from a gland near the base of the tail for waterproofing.
Greater flamingos will begin to breed at about six years of age and have no set breeding season, although rainfall and food supply seem to have an effect on when breeding and nest building occur in the year. Flamingos will carry out synchronous nesting so chicks will hatch at roughly the same time.
These flamingos are usually monogamous and form strong pair bonds but have been occasionally observed to mate with more than one partner. During courtship, individuals will perform ritualised stretching and preening and will call to each other frequently. Groups of males will also run with their bills pointed upwards and necks stretched out as part of their displays. The female will initiate copulation by leading the male away from the group and then invite him to mount by lowering her head and spreading her wings.
Flamingos will begin to build their nest mounds about six weeks before the egg is laid. These mounds are made from mud, stones, straw and feathers and can stand up to 30cm (12in) tall. A shallow well is made in the top for the egg to sit. These mounds provide protection from extreme heat and flooding.
One chalky white egg is laid and is incubated by both parents for 27-31 days. When the chicks first hatch, they are fed a white substance from the upper digestive track of the parent, known as ‘crop milk’. When they are old enough to walk, the chicks gather together in crèches which is watched over by a few adults.
- Greater flamingos can cope with high levels of salinity and often the only fresh water they have access to come from boiling geysers. These flamingos are capable of drinking boiling water. They also have a gland located in their nostrils for expelling excess salt.
- Greater flamingos will frequently stand on one leg and curl the other under their body as a method of thermoregulation.
- When resting, flamingos will face the wind to stop cold air penetrating their feathers. They can often be seen swaying in the wind.
- When flying, a flock can reach speeds of up to 50-60kph (31-37mph) and will travel 500-600km (311-373m) each night between habitats.
The greater flamingo is vulnerable to changes and disturbance to its limited number of breeding sites and breeding success is often reduced due to lowering water levels, which can increase salinity in an area and affect food levels. Thick soda deposits can also smother chicks.
Climate change can also have a serious impact on breeding sites of flamingos in the future due to rainfall and changing sea levels. Other threats to these birds include pollution, disease, lead poisoning and habitat loss from harbour and industrial development or drainage of wetlands for agricultural use.
In Egypt, large numbers of flamingos are shot or captures for sale in local markets and in Algeria, egg collection is still a big problem. The greater flamingo has few natural predators although eggs and chicks are preyed upon by other birds including the marabou stork.
- IUCN Status: Least Concern
The greater flamingo breeds well in captivity and populations are currently maintained in various locations around the world. It has also been recommended that the conservation of this species depends on the protection of both its breeding and wintering sites.
In 1978, the Flamingo Specialist Group (FSG) was established to carry out research and conservation activities on this species. In France and Spain, colonies of flamingos are managed to increase suitable nesting sites and in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), populations are monitored by a satellite tracking programme and lead polluted sand is also removed from inhabited areas.
- Male: Cock
- Female: Hen
- Young: Chick
- Group: Colony, Flamboyance, Flurry, Regiment, Stand
- ‘Flamingo’ is derived from the Latin word ‘flamenco’ which means ‘fire’ and refers to the colour of the birds feathers.
- Genetically, flamingos are most closely related to grebes.
- The greater flamingo is the largest of the six species of flamingo.
- In the USA, there are more plastic lawn flamingos than real ones.
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- Greater Flamingo: Physical Characteristics [Online] Available at: http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/flamingo/physical-characteristics.htm [Accessed: 25 October 2013]
- Species [Online] Available at: http://www.flamingoresources.org/species.html [Accessed: 25 October 2013]