Phoenicopteridae – Flamingos

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus ©Trevor Hardaker Website

Phoenicopteridae are a small family of wading birds made up of the flamingos. Flamingos or flamingoes are the only family in the order Phoenicopteriformes. There are four flamingo species in the Americas and two species in the Old World.

They are large waterbirds with long neck and legs, and unique down-curved bill adapted to filter-feeding. The bill, held upside down, is used to filter the water for small shrimps, molluscs and insects, with the tongue acting as a piston to draw water through the bill. Their pink colour comes from algae rich in carotenid pigments. They are thus adapted to life in a fairly specialised habitat, salt lakes. Their distribution is world-wide excepting Australasia and Antarctic.

Flamingos usually stand on one leg while the other is tucked beneath their body. The reason for this behaviour is not fully understood. Recent research indicates that standing on one leg may allow the birds to conserve more body heat, given that they spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water. However, the behaviour also takes place in warm water. As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom.

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, maximising food intake, and using scarce suitable nesting sites more efficiently.

Before breeding, flamingo colonies split into breeding groups of about 15 to 50 birds. Both males and females in these groups perform synchronised ritual displays. 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. The displays do not seem to be directed towards an individual but instead occur randomly.

There are generally considered to be just six species in this family, which are:

Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
Chilean Flamingo Phoenicopterus chilensis
Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor
Andean Flamingo Phoenicopterus andinus
James’s Flamingo Phoenicopterus jamesi

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 6

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