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Flamingos or flamingoes ( ) are gregarious wading birds in the genus Phoenicopterus and family Phoenicopteridae. They are found in both the Western Hemispheremarker and in the Eastern Hemisphere, but are more numerous in the latter. There are four species in the Americas and two species in the Old World. Two species, the Andean and the James's Flamingo, are often placed in the genus Phoenicoparrus instead of Phoenicopterus.



Species Geographic location
Greater Flamingo (P. roseus) Old World Parts of Africa, S. Europe and S. and SW Asia (most widespread flamingo).
Lesser Flamingo (P. minor) Africa (e.g. Great Rift Valley) to NW India (most numerous flamingo).
Chilean Flamingo (P. chilensis) New World Temperate S. South America.
James's Flamingo (P. jamesi) High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
Andean Flamingo (P. andinus) High Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
American Flamingo (P. ruber) Caribbeanmarker and Galapagos islandsmarker.


The prehistory of the Phoenicopteriformes is far better researched than their systematic affinities (see below). An extinct family of peculiar "swimming flamingos", the Palaelodidae, was initially believed to be the ancestors of the Phoenicopteridae. This is now rejected, as the fossil genus Elornis, apparently a true albeit primitive flamingo, is known from the Late Eocene, before any palaelodid flamingoes have been recorded. A considerable number of little-known birds from the Late Cretaceous onwards are sometimes considered to be flamingo ancestors. These include the genera Torotix, Scaniornis, Gallornis, Agnopterus, Tiliornis, Juncitarsus and Kashinia; these show a mix of characters and are fairly plesiomorphic in comparison to modern birds. (The supposed "Cretaceous flamingo" Parascaniornis is actually a synonym of Baptornis and not a close relative to any living bird).There exists a fairly comprehensive fossil record of the genus Phoenicopterus. The systematics of prehistoric Phoenicopteriformes known only from fossils is as followed:

  • Phoenicopteridae
    • Elornis (Middle? Eocene - Early Oligocene) - includes Actiornis
    • Phoenicopteridae gen. et sp. indet. (Camacho Middle? - Late Miocene? of San José, Uruguay)
    • Prehistoric species of Phoenicopterus:
      • Phoenicopterus croizeti (Middle Oligocene - Middle Miocene of C Europe)
      • Phoenicopterus floridanus (Early Pliocene of Florida)
      • Phoenicopterus stocki (Middle Pliocene of Rincón, Mexico)
      • Phoenicopterus copei (Late Pleistocene of W North America and C Mexico)
      • Phoenicopterus minutus (Late Pleistocene of California, USA)
      • Phoenicopterus aethiopicus


American Flamingo and offspring
The identity of the closest relatives of the flamingos is a rather contentious issue. A wide variety of birds have been proposed as their closest relatives, on a wide variety of evidence. To reflect the uncertainty about this matter, flamingos are generally placed in their own order. Recent molecular and anatomical studies have suggested a relation with grebes.

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.Relationships to the waterfowl were considered as well, especially as flamingos and waterfowl are parasitized by feather lice of the genus Anaticola, which are otherwise exclusively found on ducks and geese. Other scientists proposed flamingos as waders most closely related to the stilts and avocets, Recurvirostridae . The peculiar presbyornithids were used to argue for a close relationship between flamingos, waterfowl, and waders, but they are now known to be unequivocal waterfowl with a peculiarly derived morphology paralleling waders and flamingos.

Genetic studies since 2004 have identified a major clade of birds, which has been named the Metaves. This group contains includes flamingos and grebes, as well as the hoatzin, pigeons, hummingbirds, and the sunbittern. Most of these groups have been difficult to place on the family tree of birds. Relations within this group are somewhat unclear, and it has been suggested that this clade is based on molecular convergence.

Morphological evidence also strongly supports a relationship between flamingos and grebes. They hold at least eleven morphological traits in common, which are not found on other birds. Many of these characteristics have been previously identified on flamingos, but not on grebes. The fossil Palaeodids can be considered evolutionarily, and ecologically, intermediate between flamingos and grebes

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.



Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp. Their oddly-shaped beaks 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 flamingo's characteristic pink colouring is caused by the beta carotene in their diet. The source of this varies by species, but shrimp and blue-green algae are common sources; zoo-fed flamingos may be given food with the additive canthaxanthin, which is often also given to farmed salmon. Flamingos produce a "milk" like pigeon milk due to the action of a hormone called prolactin (see Columbidae). It contains more fat and less protein than the latter does, and it is produced in glands lining the whole of the upper digestive tract, not just the crop. Both parents nurse their chick, and young flamingos feed on this milk, which also contains red and white blood cells, for about two months until their bills are developed enough to filter feed.


Flamingos often stand on one leg. The reason for this behavior is not fully known. A leg is tucked beneath the body, because the flamingo like some other animals has the ability to have half of its body go into a state of sleep, and when one side is rested, the flamingo will swap leg and then let the other half sleep, but this has not been proven. It is often suggested that this is done in part to keep the legs from getting wet, in addition to conserving energy. As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom. Recent research has indicated that standing on one leg may allow the birds to conserve more body heat, given they spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water .

Young flamingos hatch with grey 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 coloured and thus a more desirable mate. A white or pale flamingo, however, is usually unhealthy or malnourished. Captive flamingos are a notable exception; many turn a pale pink as they are not fed carotene at levels comparable to the wild. This is changing as more zoos begin to add prawns and other supplements to the diets of their flamingos.

Conservation status

Scientists have discovered that flamingos are dying by the thousands along the Great Rift Valley lakes of Kenyamarker and Tanzania. However, they are baffled as to the reason. Possible causes include avian cholera, botulism, metal pollution, pesticides or poisonous bacteria, say researchers. Also, fears for the future of the Lesser Flamingo — Phoeniconaias minor — have been raised by plans to pipe water from one of their key breeding areas, the shores of Lake Natronmarker. The lakes are crucial to the birds' breeding success because the flamingos feed off the blooms of cyanobacteria that thrive there.

Relationship with humans

In Ancient Rome, flamingo tongues were considered a delicacy. Also, Andean miners have killed flamingos for their fat, believed to be a cure for tuberculosis.

The Moche people of ancient Perumarker worshipped nature. They placed emphasis on animals and often depicted flamingos in their art.

Habits, Behavior, Plumage etc.

Image:Flamingos at Las Vegas Zoo.JPG|Chilean flamingos at the Las Vegas ZooImage:Flamingo National Zoo.jpg|American Flamingo at National Zoo Washington, DC.Image:Lesser-flamingos-flying.jpg|Lesser Flamingos in flightFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) after taking off W2 IMG_9857.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus after taking offFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) calling W IMG_9839.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus callingFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) feeding W2 IMG_9571.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus feedingFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) in flight W IMG_9862.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus in flightFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) landing W IMG_9865.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus landingFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) scape W IMG_9593.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus scapeFile:Greater Flamingoes (Phoenicopterus roseus) taking off W IMG_9851.jpg|Greater Flamingoes Phoenicopterus roseus taking offImage:Flamingo fg01.jpg|American Flamingo at a zoo in Frankfurtmarker, probably sleeping unihemisphericallyImage:Flamingos_Laguna_Colorada.jpg|Flamingo at Laguna ColoradamarkerImage:Turkishflamingo.jpg|A Flamingo from Antalyamarker region, TurkeymarkerFile:Flamingowatchingegghatch08.jpg|Flamingo watching one of its eggs hatchFile:Flamingowithchick08.jpg|Flamingo with its chickFile:Flamingo at Dublin Zoo.jpg|Flamingos at Dublin Zoomarker.File:Flamingo party 2.JPG|Flamingos at Miami Metro Zoomarker.Image:Alice_par_John_Tenniel_30.png|Flamingo as it appeared in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

See also


  1. Both forms of the plural are attested, according to the Oxford English Dictionary
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8197000/8197932.stm
  3. Mystery threat to pink flamingos - The Hindu, 9 October 2006
  4. http://www.seaworld.org/infobooks/Flamingos/fdeath.html
  5. Benson, Elizabeth, The Mochica: A Culture of Peru. New York, NY: Praeger Press. 1972
  6. Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

Further reading

  • Hilty, Steven L. (2003): Birds of Venezuela. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
  • Svensson, Lars; Zetterström, Dan; Mullarney, Killian & Grant, P. J. (1999): Collins bird guide. HarperCollins, London. ISBN 0-00-219728-6

External links

Flamingos like cheese

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