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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Species Fact Profile: American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)

American (Caribbean) Flamingo
Phoenicopterus ruber (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range: Caribbean, Coastal Central and N. South America, Galapagos Islands
Habitat: Lagoons, Estuaries, Mud Flats, Lakes
Diet: Crustaceans, Mollusks, Insects, Worms, Algae
Social Grouping: Very Large Flocks
Reproduction: Monogamous, no breeding season, courtship in very large groups, conical nest of mud, single egg is incubated for 27-31 days by both parents, chick leaves the nest after 6-8 days and fledges at 13 weeks; chicks can breed at one year of age, but usually don't until they achieve adult coloration at 3-5 years
Lifespan: 45 Years (Wild), 75 Years (Captivity - Maximum)
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern, CITES Appendix I

  • Stand 1.2-1.45 meters tall with a wingspan of 1.5m, weight 2.2-2.8kg (males are slightly larger)
  • Long legs (longest in proportion to body size of any bird) and long neck; they often rest the head on the body so as not fatigue the neck
  • The characteristic bright pink color comes from carotenoids in the algae and crustaceans in the diet
  • Until 2002, the American flamingo was considered to be the same species as P. roseus, the greater flamingo (found in the Old World)
  • The large size of the American flamingo allows it to feed in deeper water than other flamingos, often submerging the whole head underwater to filter prey with its muscular tongue
  • Parents feed their chicks "crop milk", a nutritious secretion from their oral crop, similar to human milk
  • Do not migrate, but are very nomadic, and will travel hundreds of kilometers in search of food; they show little site tenacity and don't often return to birth location or previous flocking sites
  • Highly colonial, but territorial when feeding, they will "fence" with other flamingos that come too close
  • They often stand on one foot, usually while in the water, but it is unknown why - to conserve body heat? To reduce exposure to aquatic parasites?
  • Breeding is believed to be induced by the presence of other flamingos - they breed best in large groups.  Some zoos use mirrors in their flamingo enclosures to simulate a larger flock size
  • Threatened by disturbance and loss of habitat, they will move readily in response to habitat pressures

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