Flamingo Birds, Phoenicopterus sp. (Introduction, distribution, description, feeding and reproduction) – Video

The video was taken in Sea World, California, USA in June 2012

Introduction: Flamingos are a type of wading birds in the genus Phoenicopterus, which hosts six recognized species in the world; four species of which in the Americas and two species in the Old World. The Old World flamingos were considered by the Ancient Egyptians to be the living representation of the God Ra. The Moche people of ancient Peru who placed emphasis on animals often depicted flamingos in their art. Flamingos are the national bird in Bahamas. On the other hand, Roman emperors were fond of dishes made of flamingo tongues for which flamingos were slaughtered. Also, the birds were slaughtered in other regions under the belief of curing some diseases. Flamingos are very social birds that live in colonies that can number in the thousands. These large colonies are believed to serve predator avoidance, maximizing food intake, and exploiting suitable nesting sites.

Distribution and habitats: The home of four species in the new world includes South America (Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentine), Caribbean and Galapagos islands. The two remaining flamingo species are found in the old world that includes parts of Africa, South of Europe, and Great Rift Valley. These famous pink birds can be found in warm, watery regions on many continents. They favor environments like estuaries and saline or alkaline lakes.

Description: Flamingos (Phoeniconaias sp.) are gregarious, tall, pink wading birds with thick downturned bills. Flamingos have slender, long legs and large wings. They have long, lean and curved necks which allow for maximum movement and twisting. Flamingos have black-tipped beaks with a distinctive downward bend. Their size (according to species) ranges from about 90 to 150 cm tall (standing) and with an average weight of about 4 kg. The flocks of flamingos like to wade –in large groups- in shallow saline waters. It is claimed that in East Africa’s large lakes, flamingo groups may be as big as two million individuals during the breeding season. The ability of the bird to stand on one leg may allow the birds to conserve more of their body heat which will be highly required as birds spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water.

Feeding habits: Flamingos are omnivore birds. Their filter feeding ability allows them to trap plankton, crustaceans (e.g. artemia), mollusks, and tiny fish larvae & insects. Using their long legs and feet, flamingos stir the bottom of the shallow water and use their bent beaks to access their target food. The bird organs are well adapted to filter feeding as reflected in the shape of organs and feeding actions. A flamingo’s beak has a filter-like structure to strain food items from the water before the liquid is expelled. A part of the flamingo’s filter feeding is done through swinging the head back and forth and letting the water flow through the beak whereas the efficiency is enhanced by the large, fleshy tongue is covered with bristle-like projections that help filter water and food particles. The pink or reddish color of flamingos comes from beta carotene-rich food such as artemia. A white or pale flamingo indicates unhealthy or malnourished flamingos. This has been noticed in captive flamingos and in order to maintain the desired pink color, zoos are adding prawns and other carotene-rich supplements to the diets of flamingos.

Reproduction: The pair relationship (one male and one female) is the basic social unit of flamingos although some mate changes may occur in large colonies. The pair formation is done through performing displays among the breeding groups of flamingos ending by forming the pairs. Most likely the female flamingo chooses a suitable spot on the mudflat to build a nest. Both the male and the female contribute to building the nest which is a cone of mud. Parents defend the nesting territories. The copulation takes place during nest building. Flamingos will defend their one or two eggs and continue to defend their young.  The parental care is represented in feeding hatched chicks by crop milk produced by parents. Chick nursing is carried out by both parents. At about 7-12 days, the chicks begin to move and explore their surroundings and two weeks after, the chicks join groups of the same age and at this stage their parents leave them in these groups which come together to form larger groups which contain thousands of chicks representing a means against predation.
The chicks will reach adult size in about 21 months. After two more years, they will begin their own mating.

Source: Encyclopedia Britanica, National Geographic, http://www.stanford.edu, Wikipedia, http://animaltrial.com, Sea World

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