Flamingos are placed in the scientific order Phoenicopteriformes. As the only members of that order and the only members of the single family Phoenicopteridae within the Phoenicopteriformes order, flamingos are recognized by science as a truly distinctive group of birds. The flamingo’s anatomy and ecological niche are what differentiates them from other birds. Read more to learn more interesting facts about flamingos.
Flamingo Species and Where Do They Live?
Six species of flamingos recognized by ornithologists are found around the world. The lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) and greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) range from Asia to Africa. Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus) and James’s flamingos (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) reside in the Andes mountain range in South America. The Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) has an extensive range throughout South America. A sixth member of the flamingo group is the American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), whose range includes South America, parts of North American and the Galapagos Islands
Basic Anatomy – Can Flamingos Fly?
Most people with even minimal familiarity with birds recognize the flamingo for its long neck, spine and legs, webbed feet, and pink to white feathers. It’s hard to imagine watching these birds on the ground that they could ever get off the ground. But, yes, flamingos can fly, but it does take a lot of energy to get flying. These birds have relatively small wings compared to their body size. This gives them what is termed a “high wing load” making it difficult for them to get off the ground. To achieve flight, flamingos have to run quickly over water while flapping their wings. This must be done for a distance of at least several feet to achieve true flight, according to ornithologist Frank B. Gill in Ornithology.
Beak Structure – How and What Does a Flamingo Eat?
“A flamingo’s filter-feeding bill is one of the most distinctive and specialized avian bills” states Gill. The curved thick and strong bill has internal structures consisting of hooks, lamellae and spines that filter small animal and plant matter from the water. The flamingo dips its head upside down to place its beak into the water, sucking in water and mud and then pushing that water and mud out through its filters. According to Gill, “The size of the filtering apparatus determines a flamingo’s diet. The relatively coarse filters on a greater flamingo’s bill stain out small invertebrates, whereas the lesser flamingo’s fine filters strain out tiny blue-green algae.” Carotenoid in the flamingos’ diet is what makes their feathers pink to red in color.
Size – How Big is a Flamingo?
Flamingos are large members of the bird world. Depending on the species they range from the smallest (lesser flamingo) at 31 inches tall and weighing just 3 to 4 pounds, to the largest species (the greater flamingo) which reaches almost five feet in height and weighs up to 9 pounds. Male flamingos of all species are slightly larger than their female counterparts.
Differences between the species are not always obvious to the average bird watcher. The James’s, Andean and lesser flamingos have thicker beaks and stiffer lamelles inside their beaks as compared to the American, greater and Chilean flamingos. Greaters are the largest, with very pale pink feathers. Americans have the brightest pink feathers. Looking at the legs is one easy way to identify the Chilean, Andean and James’s. Chileans have grey legs and pink knees. Andeans have yellow legs and the James’s flamingos have orange legs.
With a complex and unique beak structure and other anatomical features found in wading birds such as long legs and webbed feet, Flamingos have evolved to inhabit a niche that is too extreme for other animals. Their typical habitat is that of a large water source that often has too much salt and too high of a pH for fish or other larger animals to survive, leaving only small invertebrates and plants to eat. These same features have also made these birds a favorite among zoo guests and those that work with wildlife alike. Click here to learn how to become a bird keeper in a zoo.
*Flamingo head photo by Robert claypool/wikimedia commons
*Flying flamingo photo by Steven Zwerink/flickr