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Greater flamingo

Scientific name: Phoenicopterus roseus


ORDER: Phoenicopteriformes
FAMILY: Phoenicopteridae

STATISTICS:  Weight: 6-9 lbs; Height: 36-50 in; Wing Span: 60 in

The male flamingo is usually larger than the female, but otherwise they are the same in appearance. Greater flamingos have long legs that are great for wading in water. The color of their feathers is pale pink with black flight feathers and bright pink wings. The feet and legs are pink to peach in color. Flamingos have a boomerang-shaped beak that can filter out water and trap food. Young are generally gray to buff brown.

The greater flamingo has the most widespread distribution of all flamingo species. Populations are found in northwest India, the Middle East, the western Mediterranean, and Africa. Limited numbers of this species can be found over much of northern Europe and eastward to Siberia.

Shallow, salty lagoons and lakes

Flamingos have an extraordinary bill that allows them to feed in the same manner as the whalebone whales. The edges and inner parts of the beak are covered in lamellae (corneous structures covered with fine hairs set in rows). The lamellae can be raised or flattened at will. The tongue is used as a pump to push water in and out of the mouth. The characteristic bend in the bill makes the opening equal along the entire length, whereas if the bill were straight, the opening would be too big at the tip.

The flamingo’s long legs allow it to wade into deep water. It has webbed feet that help support it on soft mud. This bird will occasionally stomp its feet underwater to bring food out of the mud. It normally feeds with its head and neck completely underwater. It rarely filter feeds on the surface of the water. Flamingos often stand on one leg to conserve body heat.

Its pinkish plumage, which is fundamental in stimulating reproduction, comes from the carotenoid pigments found in the algae and other organisms the flamingo eats. Without these pigments, adults would be pale pink or white, depending on the species.

Breeding can be in any season and may occur twice a year. When courtship begins, the flamingos perform structured preening (cleaning feathers with beak or tongue). If they are interested in one another they will call to each other in unison. Male and female bonding is very strong during breeding season; however, they may mate with more than one partner. Ground nests are made of mud, stones, straw and feathers and average 12-18 inches high. The female lays one egg that is incubated by both the male and the female. The hatchling is covered with white down that turns gray in three weeks. Both of the parents will feed the young. The young are fledged and able to take care of themselves at 70 to 75 days, are full size at one and a half to two years, and get their adult plumage (pink color) at two to four years.

Prey to man, some large mammals, and birds of prey; eggs and
chicks are preyed upon by a variety of predators
Predator to crustaceans and mollusks

Algae, diatoms, protozoa, worms, insect larvae, mollusks and crustaceans.

Increasing in numbers due to the increase in man-made habitats. It is currently listed as CITES Appendix II. It is also listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List because global trends have not been quantified.


  • The greater flamingos, housed at Downing Gorilla Forest and the Caribbean flamingos, housed near the entrance to the Zoo, are the same species but a different sub species. The greater is slightly larger and lighter in color than the Caribbean.
  • Flamingo communications may range from nasal honking to growling, and specific calls can be associated with certain behaviors.



  1. del Hoyo, Josep, et al. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume One. Lynx Edicions, 1992.
  2. Sea World. Flamingos
  3. Perrins, Dr. Christopher and Dr. Alex Middleton.
  4. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York. Facts on File. 1993.
  5. BirdLife International 2004. Phoenicopterus roseus. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. . Downloaded on 17 July 2008.

Published: December 2008

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