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Flamingos – Phoenicopteridae Family Of “Flame-Colored” Birds
Flamingos

Flamingos – Phoenicopteridae Family Of “Flame-Colored” Birds

Flamingos are beautiful, long-legged waders with characteristic pink coloration. Waders are a diverse group of birds that feed by wading through shallow waters. To facilitate this, they typically have long legs. Many waders also have long, flexible necks and long bills for foraging in water or spearing prey. Birds in this group also include storks, herons, ibises, spoonbills, and cranes.

The name “Flamingo stems from the Spanish/Portuguese word flamengo, meaning “flame-colored”. The coloration comes from their diet which is rich in carotenoid pigments. Flamingos feed on plankton, blue-green algae, brine shrimp, insects, mollusks, and crustaceans. They are filter feeders with specially adapted bills for separate food from silt and mud.

Flamingos fall under the Phoenicopteridae family in the order Phoenicoperiformes. Grebes are possibly their closest relatives but their relationship has not been confirmed.

Flamingos are highly sociable birds that form large colonies. They are capable fliers and noisy birds that have a wide range of vocalizations including grunts, growls, and nasal honks. Flamingos often rest on one leg with the other tucked underneath the body. There are several theories surrounding this behavior – one theory posits that they do this to conserve energy.

Let’s Take A Look At The Different Genera And Species:

1. Genus Phoenicoparrus

There are two species in this genus.

1.1. Andean Flamingo, Phoenicoparrus andinus

Andean Flamingo
Image By Sergey Pisarevskiy

Description: The Andean flamingo has pink plumage, with paler underparts, a black and yellow bill, and a black rump. It has yellow legs and three-toed feet.

Range: Andean Plateau of South America.

Habitat: Wetlands, salt lakes, and salt flats.

Conservation status: The Andean flamingo is vulnerable due to habitat degradation particularly due to the mining industry, and human disturbances such as egg poaching.

Similar species:

  • Chilean Flamingo – The Andean flamingo has a black rump, and the Chilean flamingo does not have yellow on its bill.
  • James’s Flamingo – The Andean flamingo has yellow legs, whereas the James’s flamingo has red legs and its bill has a brighter yellow. The Andean flamingo is also larger.
Andean Flamingo closeup
Image By Adrian Pingstone
Andean Flamingo habitat
Image By Mauricio Sandoval Reyes
Andean Flamingo flight
Image By Paul Balfe
Andean Flamingo feathering
Image By Paul Balfe

1.2. James’s Flamingo, Phoenicoparrus jamesi

James’s Flamingo
Image By Iain And Sarah

Description: The James’s Flamingo has pale pink plumage with a black rump and carmine streaks on its back and neck. It has red orbital skin and a yellow bill with a black tip. It is similar to the Andean Flamingo but the latter has yellow legs, and the James’s flamingo has a brighter yellow bill. The Andean Flamingo is also larger. It is named after the British naturalist Harry Berkeley James.

Range: Andean Plateau of South America.

Habitat: Salt lakes and bogs.

Conservation status: James’s flamingos are near-threatened to due habitat destruction and egg poaching.

James’s Flamingo habitat
Juvenile (Image By Luke Robinson)
James’s Flamingo closeup
Image By David Brickman
James’s Flamingo feathering
Image By Luke Robinson

2. Genus Phoenicopterus

There are four species in this genus.

2.1. American Flamingo (Caribbean Flamingo), Phoenicopterus ruber

American Flamingo
Image By Dick Daniels

Description: The American flamingo has mainly pink plumage with red wing coverts. It has a pink and white bill with a black tip and pink legs. It is similar to the Chilean flamingo but the latter has more black on its bill. The American flamingo also has a deeper pink plumage.

Range: The Americas and the Galapagos Islands.

Habitat: Salt lagoons, mangroves, mudflats, and shallow brackish or salt lakes.

Conservation status: Least concern.

American Flamingo closeup
Image By Sandy Cole
American Flamingo in flight
Image By Ferran Pestaña
American Flamingo feathering
Image By Sandy Cole
American Flamingo habitat
Image By Dick Daniels

2.2. Chilean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus chilensis

Chilean Flamingo
Image By Dick Daniels
Chilean Flamingo distribution

Description: The Chilean flamingo has a pale pink plumage and grayish legs with pink joints. Its bill is mostly black with pinkish white at the base.

Range: They are native to South America but escaped populations have established in North America and it was also introduced to the Netherlands.

Habitat: Shallow lakes, salt lagoons, and coastal environments.

Conservation status: The Chilean flamingo is near-threatened due to water pollution and habitat loss.

Similar species:

  • American Flamingo – The Chilean flamingo has more black on its bill.
  • Andean Flamingo – The Andean flamingo has a black rump and a part yellow bill.
Chilean Flamingo juvenile
Juvenile (Image By Sandy Cole)
Chilean Flamingo adult
Image By Dick Daniels
Chilean Flamingo habitat
Image By Dick Daniels
Chilean Flamingo closeup
Image By Dick Daniels

2.3. Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus

Greater Flamingo
Image By William Warby – London Zoo

Description: The Greater flamingo has mainly pale pink plumage with red wing coverts and black flight feathers. It has pink legs and a pink bill with a black tip. It is similar to the lesser flamingo but the latter has an all-black bill. The greater flamingo is also the largest flamingo species.

Range: They are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Escaped populations have established in North America.

Habitat: Mudflats and salt lagoons.

Conservation status: Least concern.

Greater Flamingo closeup
Image By Andrea Schaffer
Greater Flamingo habitat
Image By Dick Daniels
Greater Flamingo in flight
Image By Ferran Pestana
Greater Flamingo feathering
Image By Andrea Schaffer
Greater Flamingo flock
Image By Dick Daniels

2.4. Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor

Lesser Flamingo
Image By Angell Williams
Lesser Flamingo closeup
Image By David Bygott – London Zoo

Description: The Lesser flamingo has mainly pale pink plumage with red wing coverts and black flight feathers. It has pink legs and a black bill. It is similar to the greater flamingo but the lesser flamingo has an all-black bill and the greater flamingo is the largest flamingo species.

Range: They are native to Africa but escaped populations have established in North America.

Habitat: Inland soda lakes.

Conservation status: The lesser flamingo is near-threatened due to habitat loss, human disturbance, and water pollution.

Lesser Flamingo habitat
Image By Dick Daniels
Lesser Flamingo feathering
Image By Cristiano Crolle
Lesser Flamingo in the water
Image By Dick Daniels
Lesser Flamingo flock
Image By Jerry Friedman
Lesser Flamingo in flight
Image By Dick Daniels
Lesser Flamingo distribution
Image By Dick Daniels
Lesser Flamingo description
Image By Darren Bellerby

Conclusion

Flamingos are spectacular birds that have captured our interest since ancient times. They feature prominently in the artworks of the ancient Peruvian Moche civilization. Even now, flamingos are revered birds, as referenced by the plastic flamingo statues adorning many modern gardens. Flamingos are also popular birds in many zoos and aviaries around the world.

Sadly, four out of the six species of flamingos are under threat. These four species are under international protection. Three are classified as near-threatened and one is (the Andean flamingo) is listed as vulnerable. Other localized conservation projects aim to mitigate regional impacts on flamingo species. The main threats to flamingos are habitat loss, egg poaching, and other human disturbances. Flamingos are also directly impacted by water pollution in their habitats.