Flamingo, American


Phoenicopterus ruper



This subspecies is the brightest colored of all flamingos.  Plumage is pink/scarlet with black primary feathers.  The intensity of the color is affected by their diet.  The American flamingo has a wingspan of 59 inches.  Adults grow to be about 4 feet tall; weight ranges from 4.2 to 6.6 pounds.  Males are larger than females, but otherwise the same in appearance.  The bill is thick with a sharp downward bend at its middle.  It is yellow/orange with a black tip.  The large bill is used in filter feeding.  The eyes are orange.  Legs and feet are very long with short webbed toes.


Family

Phoenicopteridae

Order

Ciconiiformes

Class

Aves

Range

Warm climates, shallow salt-water lagoons in the West Indies, northern South America, Yucatan, the Galapagos Islands, and extreme southern United States.

Habitat

Flamingos prefer alkaline (the opposite of acid) habitats such as salt flats and saline lagoons.

Life Expectancy

Flamingos live 15-20 years in the wild and live to approximately 50 years old in captivity.

Sexual Maturity

Reached at approximately 6 years of age

Diet

The food is usually a mix of insects, crustaceans (shrimp-like animals), and tiny plants like diatoms and algae. In the Zoo, they are fed flamingo pellets.

Status

CITES II

Behaviors

Flamingos are gregarious birds; flocks numbering hundreds may be seen in long, curving flight formations and in wading groups along the shore. Flamingo vocalizations range from nasal honking to growling. Specific calls can be associated with certain behaviors. Vocalizations are used in parent-chick recognition. Breeding can occur in any season. Flamingos may breed twice a year. Breeding and nest building may depend on rainfall and its effect on food supply. American flamingos perform structured preening rituals when courtship begins. Birds interested in each other will call to one another in unison. Male and female bonding is very strong during this time. American flamingos are polygamous, mating occurs with more than one partner. A flamingo’s nest is made of mud, stones, straw, and feathers. It is built by the female and may be as high as 12 inches. A single egg is laid on top of the nest and is incubated by both sexes for approximately 28 days. At hatching, the chick is covered with white down that turns gray in approximately 3 weeks. It is fed by parent regurgitation of partly digested food. Chicks may leave the nest after five days to form nursery groups, returning to their nests only to feed from their parents. After about two weeks, the young start to find their own food. Chicks remain nestlings for approximately 75 days.

Adaptions

The flamingo’s beak plays the essential role in catching food. The method of feeding is similar to that of the baleen whales. The beak is held upside down in the water, while the bird sucks in water, minute organisms are filtered out by a comb-like projection called lamellae, leaving the food behind. This is unique for the birds. Water and large food items are either filtered out or kept from entering the beak by way of the slits. Flamingos are good waders and swimmers. The legs of the American flamingo are long, which enables them to wade into much deeper water than most other birds. Their webbed feet support them on soft mud.

Special Interests

The first captive hatching of flamingos in North America took place at the Philadelphia Zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo also developed the diet, which includes carrot juice for maintaining the bird’s coloration.

Folklore

What appears to be the flamingo’s knee is actually its ankle. Flamingos frequently stand on one leg. Being able to curl the leg under the body helps keep the foot warm and conserves body heat. Flamingos stand on one leg in both cool and warm environments. The flamingo needs a carotene rich diet in order to keep their delicate pink-colored plumage. If the diet is low in carotene, the feathers become white.

Conservation

It can be said that the flamingos’ greatest predator is man, because flamingos are most vulnerable to habitat change and exploitation. The flamingo has few predators because of the environment in which it lives.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Exhibit

Range of the Jaguar