Flamingo Facts

Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus

Flamingos at a beach in India
Some—but not all—flamingos are pink.

Hitesh Parmar / Getty Images

Flamingos are wading birds that are easily recognized by their long, stilt-like legs and rosy color. The name "flamingo" comes from the Portuguese and Spanish word flamengo, which means "flame-colored." The genus name Phoenicopterus comes from the Greek word phoinikopteros, which means "blood red-feathered."

Fast Facts: Flamingo

  • Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus
  • Common Name: Flamingo
  • Basic Animal Group: Bird
  • Size: 3-5 feet
  • Weight: 2.6-8.8 pounds
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Coastal Americas, Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and Europe
  • Population: Thousands to hundreds of thousands, depending on species
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable to Least Concern

Species

Flamingos belong to the genus Phoenicopterus and are the only members of the family Phoenicopteridae. There are six flamingo species. Four live in the Americas and Caribbean, while two live in Europe, Asia, and Africa:

  • American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
  • Andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus)
  • Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis)
  • Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
  • Lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)
  • Puna (James') flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi)

Description

Flamingos have long legs, large curved bills, and plumage in shades ranging from white or gray to pink or orange. Members of some species may have black bills and some black feathers. The greater flamingo is the largest bird, ranging from 3.5 to 5 feet tall and weighing between 4.4 and 8.8 pounds. The lesser flamingo is the smallest bird, with a height of 2.6 to 3 feet and weight of 2.6 to 6 pounds.

Close-up of flamingo head
Close-up of flamingo head. danieljamestowle / Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

Flamingos prefer shallow aquatic habitats, including tidal flats, lagoons, lakes, swamps, and islands. The greater flamingo occurs along the coasts of Africa, southern Europe, and southwestern Asia. The lesser flamingo lives from the Great Rift Valley in Africa up to northwestern India. The American flamingo lives in the Galapagos Islands, Belize, the Caribbean islands, and southern Florida. The Chilean flamingo is found in temperate parts of South America. The Andean flamingo and the puna flamingo (or James' flamingo) are found in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Map showing flamingo distribution
Map of flamingo range. Phoenix B 1of3 / Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Diet

Flamingos are omnivores that feed on blue-green algae, brine shrimp, insect, crustaceans, and mollusks. They stir up mud with their feet and dip their bills upside-down in the water to filter food. The pigment molecules in their food (carotenoids) give flamingos their pink to reddish color. Flamingos that feed primarily on blue-green algae are darker than those that get the pigment second-hand from crustaceans. Flamingos that don't get carotenoids from their diet may be perfectly healthy, but are gray or white.

Flamingos on lake in Andes, the southern part of Bolivia
Flamingos on lake in Andes, the southern part of Bolivia. mariusz_prusaczyk / Getty Images

Behavior

Flamingos are social birds that live in colonies. Colony life helps the birds establish nesting sites, avoid predators, and find food efficiently. The birds commonly stand on one leg and tuck the other leg beneath their bodies. The reason for this behavior is unclear, but it may help the birds conserve body heat or energy required for standing long periods of time. Flamingos are excellent fliers. Captive birds have their wings clipped to prevent escape.

Reproduction and Offspring

Flamingos are largely monogamous and lay a single egg each year. Both males and females perform ritual courtship displays, sometimes resulting in same-sex pairs. A mating pair builds a nest together and shares incubation duties about a month until the chick hatches. Newborn chicks are fluffy and gray, with black feet and straight black beaks. Both parents produce pink crop milk to feed the chick. As the chick grows, the parents regurgitate food to feed their offspring. When chicks are two weeks old, they congregate in groups or crèches, making them less vulnerable to predators. The chick turns pink within the first year or two and its beak curves as it matures. Wild flamingos live 20 to 30 years, but captive birds can live much longer. One captive greater flamingo named "Greater" lived at least 83 years.

Flamingo adult and chick
Flamingo chicks are gray and have straight bills. miroslav_1 / Getty Images

Conservation Status

IUCN conservation status for flamingos ranges from "vulnerable" to "least concern." The Andean flamingo is classified as vulnerable, with a stable population. The lesser flamingo, Chilean flamingo, and puna flamingo are near threatened, with stable or decreasing populations. The greater flamingo and American flamingo are categorized as least concern and are increasing in population size. A 1997 census found only 34,000 Andean flamingos. There are hundreds of thousands of greater and American flamingos.

Threats

Flamingos are highly susceptible to water pollution and lead poisoning. Reproductive success decreases when the birds are disturbed by tourists, low-flying aircraft, and predators. Other threats include climate change, water level changes, and diseases. Adults and eggs of some species are killed or collected for food or pets.

Sources

  • BirdLife International 2018. Phoenicopterus roseus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697360A131878173. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697360A131878173.en
  • del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, 1992.
  • Delany, S. and D. Scott. Waterbird Population Estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 2006.
  • Ehrlich, Paul; Dobkin, David S.; Wheye, Darryl. The Birder's Handbook. New York, NY, US: Simon & Schuster, Inc. p. 271, 1988. ISBN 978-0-671-62133-9.
  • Mateo, R.; Belliure, J.; Dolz, J.C.; Aguilar-Serrano, J.M.; Guitart, R. High prevalences of lead poisoning in wintering waterfowl in Spain. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 35: 342-347, 1998.