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Temporal range: 25–0  Ma
Late Oligocene – Recent
Flamingos Laguna Colorada.jpg
James's flamingos (P. jamesi)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Phoenicopteriformes
Family: Phoenicopteridae
Bonaparte, 1831
Type species
Phoenicopterus ruber
Flamingo range.png
Global distribution of flamingos

Flamingos or flamingoes [2] /fləˈmɪŋɡz/ are a type of wading bird in the family Phoenicopteridae, the only bird family in the order Phoenicopteriformes. Four flamingo species are distributed throughout the Americas, including the Caribbean, and two species are native to Africa, Asia, and Europe.



Captive American flamingos feeding

The name "Flamingo" comes from Portuguese or Spanish flamengo, "flame-colored", in turn coming from Provençal flamenc from flama "flame" and Germanic-like suffix -ing , with a possible influence of the Spanish ethnonym flamenco "Fleming" or "Flemish". The generic name Phoenicopterus (from Greek : φοινικόπτεροςphoinikopteros), literally means "blood red-feathered" has a similar etymology to the common name; [3] other genera include Phoeniconaias, which means "crimson/red water nymph (or naiad)", and Phoenicoparrus, which means "crimson/red bird (though, an unknown bird of omen)".

Taxonomy and systematics

Traditionally, the long-legged Ciconiiformes, probably a paraphyletic assemblage, have been considered the flamingos' closest relatives and the family was included in the order. Usually, the ibises and spoonbills of the Threskiornithidae were considered their closest relatives within this order. Earlier genetic studies, such as those of Charles Sibley and colleagues, also supported this relationship. [4] Relationships to the waterfowl were considered as well, [5] especially as flamingos are parasitized by feather lice of the genus Anaticola , which are otherwise exclusively found on ducks and geese. [6] The peculiar presbyornithids were used to argue for a close relationship between flamingos, waterfowl, and waders. [7] A 2002 paper concluded they are waterfowl, [8] but a 2014 comprehensive study of bird orders found that flamingos and grebes are not waterfowl, but rather are part of Columbea along with doves, sandgrouse, and mesites. [9]

Relationship with grebes

Many molecular and morphological studies support a relationship between grebes and flamingos. Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)- Breeding plumage W2 IMG 8770.jpg
Many molecular and morphological studies support a relationship between grebes and flamingos.

Recent molecular studies have suggested a relation with grebes, [10] [11] [12] while morphological evidence also strongly supports a relationship between flamingos and grebes. They hold at least 11 morphological traits in common, which are not found in other birds. Many of these characteristics have been previously identified on flamingos, but not on grebes. [13] The fossil palaelodids can be considered evolutionarily, and ecologically, intermediate between flamingos and grebes. [14]

For the grebe-flamingo clade, the taxon Mirandornithes ("miraculous birds" due to their extreme divergence and apomorphies) has been proposed. Alternatively, they could be placed in one order, with Phoenocopteriformes taking priority. [14]


Living flamingos: [15]


P. chilensis (Chilean flamingo)

P. roseus (Greater flamingo)

P. ruber (American flamingo)

Phoeniconaias minor (Lesser flamingo)


P. andinus (Andean flamingo)

P. jamesi (James's flamingo)


Six extant flamingo species are recognized by most sources, and were formerly placed in one genus (have common characteristics) – Phoenicopterus. As a result of a 2014 publication, [16] the family was reclassified into two genera. [17] Currently, the family has three recognized genera, according to HBW. [18]

ImageSpeciesGeographic location
Flamant rose Salines de Thyna.jpg Greater flamingo
(Phoenicopterus roseus)
Old WorldParts of Africa, S. Europe and S. and SW Asia (most widespread flamingo).
Lesser Flamingo RWD.jpg Lesser flamingo
(Phoeniconaias minor)
Africa (e.g. Great Rift Valley) to NW India (most numerous flamingo).
Westfalenpark-100821-17767-Flamingo.jpg Chilean flamingo
(Phoenicopterus chilensis)
New WorldTemperate S. South America.
James Flamingo.jpg James's flamingo
(Phoenicoparrus jamesi)
High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Two andeanflamingo june2003 arp.jpg Andean flamingo
(Phoenicoparrus andinus)
High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Greater flamingo galapagos.JPG American flamingo
(Phoenicopterus ruber)
Caribbean islands, Caribbean Mexico, southern Florida, [19] Belize, coastal Colombia, northern Brazil, Venezuela and Galápagos Islands.
P. croizeti fossil Phoenicopterus croizeti.JPG
P. croizeti fossil

Prehistoric species of flamingo:[ citation needed ]


Flamingos usually stand on one leg, with the other being tucked beneath the body. The reason for this behaviour is not fully understood. One theory is that standing on one leg allows the birds to conserve more body heat, given that they spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water. [20] However, the behaviour also takes place in warm water and is also observed in birds that do not typically stand in water. An alternative theory is that standing on one leg reduces the energy expenditure for producing muscular effort to stand and balance on one leg. A study on cadavers showed that the one-legged pose could be held without any muscle activity, while living flamingos demonstrate substantially less body sway in a one-legged posture. [21] As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom. [22]

Flamingos are capable flyers, and flamingos in captivity often require wing clipping to prevent escape. A pair of African flamingos which had not yet had their wings clipped escaped from the Wichita, Kansas zoo in 2005. One was spotted in Texas 14 years later. It had been seen previously by birders in Texas, Wisconsin and Louisiana. [23]

Flamingos in flight at Rio Lagartos, Yucatan, Mexico Flamingos in flight.jpg
Flamingos in flight at Rio Lagartos, Yucatán, Mexico

Young flamingos hatch with grayish-red plumage, but adults range from light pink to bright red due to aqueous bacteria and beta-carotene obtained from their food supply. A well-fed, healthy flamingo is more vibrantly colored, thus a more desirable mate; a white or pale flamingo, however, is usually unhealthy or malnourished. Captive flamingos are a notable exception; they may turn a pale pink if they are not fed carotene at levels comparable to the wild. [24]

The greater flamingo is the tallest of the six different species of flamingos, standing at 3.9 to 4.7 feet (1.2 to 1.4 m) with a weight up to 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg), and the shortest flamingo species (the lesser) has a height of 2.6 feet (0.8 m) and weighs 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg). Flamingos can have a wingspan as small as 37 inches (94 cm) to as big as 59 inches (150 cm). [25]

Flamingoes can open their bills by raising the upper jaw as well as by dropping the lower. [26]

Behavior and ecology


American flamingos vocalizing at the Stone Zoo in Massachusetts, USA.
American flamingo and offspring: The arcuate (curved) bill is well adapted to bottom scooping. Flamingo and offspring.jpg
American flamingo and offspring: The arcuate (curved) bill is well adapted to bottom scooping.

Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae as well as insect larvae, small insects, mollusks and crustaceans making them omnivores. Their bills are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae, which line the mandibles, and the large, rough-surfaced tongue. The pink or reddish color of flamingos comes from carotenoids in their diet of animal and plant plankton. American flamingos are a brighter red color because of the beta carotene availability in their food while the lesser flamingos are a paler pink due to ingesting a smaller amount of this pigment. These carotenoids are broken down into pigments by liver enzymes. [27] The source of this varies by species, and affects the color saturation. Flamingos whose sole diet is blue-green algae are darker than those that get it second-hand by eating animals that have digested blue-green algae). [28]

Vocalization sounds

Flamingos are considered very noisy birds with their noises and vocalizations ranging from grunting or growling to nasal honking. Vocalizations play an important role in parent-chick recognition, ritualized displays, and keeping large flocks together. Variations in vocalizations exist in the voices of different species of flamingos. [29] [30]


Chilean flamingo feeding its young Chilean Flamingo Feeding.jpg
Chilean flamingo feeding its young
Colony of flamingos at Lake Nakuru Large number of flamingos at Lake Nakuru.jpg
Colony of flamingos at Lake Nakuru

Flamingos are very social birds; they live in colonies whose population can number in the thousands. These large colonies are believed to serve three purposes for the flamingos: avoiding predators, maximizing food intake, and using scarcely suitable nesting sites more efficiently. [31] Before breeding, flamingo colonies split into breeding groups of about 15 to 50 birds. Both males and females in these groups perform synchronized ritual displays. [32] The members of a group stand together and display to each other by stretching their necks upwards, then uttering calls while head-flagging, and then flapping their wings. [33] The displays do not seem directed towards an individual, but occur randomly. [33] These displays stimulate "synchronous nesting" (see below) and help pair up those birds that do not already have mates. [32]

Flamingos form strong pair bonds, although in larger colonies, flamingos sometimes change mates, presumably because more mates are available to choose. [34] Flamingo pairs establish and defend nesting territories. They locate a suitable spot on the mudflat to build a nest (the female usually selects the place). [33] Copulation usually occurs during nest building, which is sometimes interrupted by another flamingo pair trying to commandeer the nesting site for their use. Flamingos aggressively defend their nesting sites. Both the male and the female contribute to building the nest, and to protecting the nest and egg. [35] Same-sex pairs have been reported. [36]

After the chicks hatch, the only parental expense is feeding. [37] Both the male and the female feed their chicks with a kind of crop milk, produced in glands lining the whole of the upper digestive tract (not just the crop). The hormone prolactin stimulates production. The milk contains fat, protein, and red and white blood cells. (Pigeons and doves—Columbidae—also produce crop milk (just in the glands lining the crop), which contains less fat and more protein than flamingo crop milk.) [38]

For the first six days after the chicks hatch, the adults and chicks stay in the nesting sites. At around 7–12 days old, the chicks begin to move out of their nests and explore their surroundings. When they are two weeks old, the chicks congregate in groups, called "microcrèches", and their parents leave them alone. After a while, the microcrèches merge into "crèches" containing thousands of chicks. Chicks that do not stay in their crèches are vulnerable to predators. [39]

Status and conservation

In captivity

The first flamingo hatched in a European zoo was a Chilean flamingo at Zoo Basel in Switzerland in 1958. Since then, over 389 flamingos have grown up in Basel and been distributed to other zoos around the globe. [40]

Greater, an at least 83-year-old greater flamingo, believed to be the oldest in the world, died at the Adelaide Zoo in Australia in January 2014. [41]

Zoos have used mirrors to improve flamingo breeding behaviour. The mirrors are thought to give the flamingos the impression that they are in a larger flock than they actually are. [42]

Relationship with humans

Moche ceramic depicting flamingo (200 AD) Larco Museum Collection, Lima, Peru FlamingoMocheLMC.jpg
Moche ceramic depicting flamingo (200 AD) Larco Museum Collection, Lima, Peru

Related Research Articles

Procellariiformes Order of birds

Procellariiformes is an order of seabirds that comprises four families: the albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, and 2 families of storm petrels. Formerly called Tubinares and still called tubenoses in English, procellariiforms are often referred to collectively as the petrels, a term that has been applied to all members of the order, or more commonly all the families except the albatrosses. They are almost exclusively pelagic, and have a cosmopolitan distribution across the world's oceans, with the highest diversity being around New Zealand.

Grebe Order of birds

Grebes are aquatic diving birds in the order Podicipediformes. Grebes are widely distributed birds of freshwater, with some species also occurring in marine habitats during migration and winter. The order contains a single family, the Podicipedidae, which includes 22 species in six extant genera.

Seabird Birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment

Seabirds are birds that are adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations. The first seabirds evolved in the Cretaceous period, and modern seabird families emerged in the Paleogene.

Greater flamingo Species of bird

The greater flamingo is the most widespread and largest species of the flamingo family. It is found in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and in southern Europe.

Chilean flamingo Species of flamingo

The Chilean flamingo is a species of large flamingo at 110–130 cm (43–51 in) closely related to American flamingo and greater flamingo, with which it was sometimes considered conspecific. The species is listed as near threatened by the IUCN.

Red-necked grebe species of migratory aquatic bird

The red-necked grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

Black-necked grebe A water bird from parts of Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.

The black-necked grebe or eared grebe is a member of the grebe family of water birds. It was described in 1831 by Christian Ludwig Brehm. There are currently three accepted subspecies, including the nominate subspecies. Its breeding plumage features a distinctive ochre-coloured plumage which extends behind its eye and over its ear coverts. The rest of the upper parts, including the head, neck, and breast, are coloured black to blackish brown. The flanks are tawny rufous to maroon-chestnut, and the abdomen is white. When in its non-breeding plumage, this bird has greyish-black upper parts, including the top of the head and a vertical stripe on the back of the neck. The flanks are also greyish-black. The rest of the body is a white or whitish colour. The juvenile has more brown in its darker areas. The subspecies californicus can be distinguished from the nominate by the former's usually longer bill. The other subspecies, P. n. gurneyi, can be differentiated by its greyer head and upper parts and by its smaller size. P. n. gurneyi can also be told apart by its lack of a non-breeding plumage. This species is present in parts of Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas.

Swallow Family of birds

The swallows, martins, and saw-wings, or Hirundinidae, are a family of passerine birds found around the world on all continents, including occasionally in Antarctica. Highly adapted to aerial feeding, they have a distinctive appearance. The term "swallow" is used colloquially in Europe as a synonym for the barn swallow. Around 90 species of Hirundinidae are known, divided into 19 genera, with the greatest diversity found in Africa, which is also thought to be where they evolved as hole-nesters. They also occur on a number of oceanic islands. A number of European and North American species are long-distance migrants; by contrast, the West and South African swallows are nonmigratory.

Crab-plover Species of bird

The crab-plover or crab plover is a bird related to the waders, but sufficiently distinctive to merit its own family Dromadidae. Its relationship within the Charadriiformes is unclear, some have considered it to be closely related to the thick-knees, or the pratincoles, while others have considered it closer to the auks and gulls. It is the only member of the genus Dromas and is unique among waders in making use of ground warmth to aid incubation of the eggs.

Andean flamingo Species of bird

The Andean flamingo is a species of flamingo and one of the rarest of its type in the world. It lives in the Andes mountains of South America. Until 2014, it was classified in genus Phoenicopterus. It is closely related to James's flamingo, and the two make up the genus Phoenicoparrus. The Chilean flamingo, Andean flamingo, and James' flamingo are all sympatric, and all live in colonies.

Lesser flamingo Species of bird

The lesser flamingo is a species of flamingo occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and northwestern India. Birds are occasionally reported from further north, but these are generally considered vagrants.

Pigeon guillemot Seabird in the auk family from North Pacific coastal waters

The pigeon guillemot is a species of bird in the auk family, Alcidae. One of three species in the genus Cepphus, it is most closely related to the spectacled guillemot. There are five subspecies of the pigeon guillemot; all subspecies, when in breeding plumage, are dark brown with a black iridescent sheen and a distinctive wing patch broken by a brown-black wedge. Its non-breeding plumage has mottled grey and black upperparts and white underparts. The long bill is black, as are the claws. The legs, feet, and inside of the mouth are red. It closely resembles the black guillemot, which is slightly smaller and lacks the dark wing wedge present in the pigeon guillemot. Combined, the two form a superspecies.

Jamess flamingo Species of bird

James's flamingo, also known as the puna flamingo, is a species of flamingo that populates the high altitudes of Andean plateaus of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and northwest Argentina.

Helpers at the nest

Helpers at the nest is a term used in behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology to describe a social structure in which juveniles and sexually mature adolescents of either one or both sexes remain in association with their parents and help them raise subsequent broods or litters, instead of dispersing and beginning to reproduce themselves. This phenomenon was first studied in birds where it occurs most frequently, but it is also known in animals from many different groups including mammals and insects. It is a simple form of co-operative breeding. The effects of helpers usually amount to a net benefit, however, benefits are not uniformly distributed by all helpers nor across all species that exhibit this behaviour. There are multiple proposed explanations for the behaviour, but its variability and broad taxonomic occurrences result in simultaneously plausible theories.

Painted stork Species of bird

The painted stork is a large wader in the stork family. It is found in the wetlands of the plains of tropical Asia south of the Himalayas in the Indian Subcontinent and extending into Southeast Asia. Their distinctive pink tertial feathers of the adults give them their name. They forage in flocks in shallow waters along rivers or lakes. They immerse their half open beaks in water and sweep them from side to side and snap up their prey of small fish that are sensed by touch. As they wade along they also stir the water with their feet to flush hiding fish. They nest colonially in trees, often along with other waterbirds. The only sounds they produce are weak moans or bill clattering at the nest. They are not migratory and only make short distance movements in some parts of their range in response to changes in weather or food availability or for breeding. Like other storks, they are often seen soaring on thermals.

Wood stork wading bird found in the Americas

The wood stork is a large American wading bird in the family Ciconiidae (storks). It was formerly called the "wood ibis", though it is not an ibis. It is found in subtropical and tropical habitats in the Americas, including the Caribbean. In South America, it is resident, but in North America, it may disperse as far as Florida. Originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, this stork likely evolved in tropical regions. The head and neck are bare of feathers, and dark grey in colour. The plumage is mostly white, with the exception of the tail and some of the wing feathers, which are black with a greenish-purplish sheen. The juvenile differs from the adult, with the former having a feathered head and a yellow bill, compared to the black adult bill. There is little sexual dimorphism.

<i>Aechmophorus</i> Genus of birds

Aechmophorus is a genus of birds in the grebe family.

American flamingo Species of bird

The American flamingo is a large species of flamingo closely related to the greater flamingo and Chilean flamingo. It was formerly considered conspecific with the greater flamingo, but that treatment is now widely viewed as incorrect due to a lack of evidence. It is also known as the Caribbean flamingo, although it is also present in the Galápagos Islands. It is the only flamingo that naturally inhabits North America.

Bird colony

A bird colony is a large congregation of individuals of one or more species of bird that nest or roost in proximity at a particular location. Many kinds of birds are known to congregate in groups of varying size; a congregation of nesting birds is called a breeding colony. Colonial nesting birds include seabirds such as auks and albatrosses; wetland species such as herons; and a few passerines such as weaverbirds, certain blackbirds, and some swallows. A group of birds congregating for rest is called a communal roost. Evidence of colonial nesting has been found in non-neornithine birds (Enantiornithes), in sediments from the Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) of Romania.

Austral storm petrel Family of birds

Austral storm petrels, or southern storm petrels, are seabirds in the family Oceanitidae, part of the order Procellariiformes. These smallest of seabirds feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. Their flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.


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