KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Phoenicopteriformes (Water Birds)
FAMILY: Phoenicopteridae (Water Birds)
GENUS: Phoenicopterus (Flamingos)
SPECIES: Phoenicopterus roseus (Greater Flamingo)
The population of the Greater Flamingo spreads across the Middle East to northern India to Africa and the Mediterranean. There are limited numbers found in northern Europe.
The greater flamingo has a long, thin neck and legs, colourful plumage and a distinctive downward-bending beak. It is pale, with white to pale pink plumage, contrasting red shoulders, and black tips on the wings. The legs are pink, the eyes yellow, and the beak is pale pink, with a black tip. The female is smaller than the male, and juveniles are grey-brown with some pink in the under parts, wings and tail, and the legs and beak are mainly brown.
Greater Flamingos are found in a variety of saltwater habitats including salt or alkaline lakes, estuaries, shallow coastal lagoons and mudflats. They rarely inhabit areas of freshwater other than using freshwater inlets for bathing and drinking. Those that live outside the tropics often migrate to warmer climates for the winter months.
Greater Flamingos feed on insects, worms, vegetation and algae. They mainly feed during the day and they sweep their bill upside down through shallow water picking up food as they go.
Greater Flamingos are gregarious birds and live together in flocks or dense colonies numbering between 10 – 12 birds. Flocks remain closely packed and individuals are protected from predators by the other flock members while they have their heads down in the mud when feeding.
Flamingos are generally monogamous (having one partner at a time). They are a highly social species and nest in large dense colonies, with often as many as 20,000 pairs, or exceptionally up to 200,000 pairs. Their breeding season differs with location and may occur at irregular intervals in some areas after rain.
Flamingos perform spectacular group courtship displays, involving synchronised wing-raising, ritualised preening, and ‘head-flagging’, raising the neck and beak and turning the head from side to side.
Greater Flamingos build their nests in pairs. Nests are made out of hardened mud with a shallow depression in the top, although a small pile of stones and debris, lined with grass, twigs and feathers, is used if mud is not available. One of the pair stands over the nest site and drags mud between its webbed feet with its curved bill. The mud is then pressed into place with the bill and feet. Flamingos are monogamous. Like all species of flamingo, the female Greater Flamingo lays a single chalky-white egg on a mud mound in shallow water. The mating pair takes turns to incubate the single egg. The egg hatches after 27 – 31 days and the parents help the chick out of the egg by pulling pieces of the shell away. The greater flamingo may live for over 40 years in the wild.
Greater Flamingos have few natural predators except for jackals and feral dogs. However, their eggs and chicks are preyed upon by other birds including the marabou stork.
Disturbance at breeding colonies such as from tourists, low-flying aircraft or if water-levels surrounding nest-sites lower exposing them to predation reduces breeding success. Effluents from soda-ash mining, pollution from sewage and heavy metal from industries threatens the habitat of the species. Other threats are lead poisoning, collisions with fences and power lines as well as tuberculosis, septicaemia and avian botulism.
Did you know?
- Chicks are fed a diet of crop milk that comes from the upper digestive system of both of their parents
- What appears to be the flamingo’s knee is actually its ankle
- The flamingo is actually sleeping when it is on one leg but the strange thing is, that only half of the flamingo is actually asleep – the half that contains the leg still standing remains active. The flamingo then swaps over so that the remaining side also rests