Flamingos are among some of the most elegant and striking fauna on the planet. Their long necks, slender legs and the rich flourish of their pink colouring make them unique among the animal world. But why are they pink? Happy Ali looks beyond the plumage to find out…
There is nothing quite as striking as the spectacle of a vast flock of flamingos wading the shallow waters of their wetland habitat, a sea of pink on a lake of pale blue stretching to the horizon.
But why are these gorgeous creatures pink? The name flamingo originates from the Spanish and Portuguese languages and means ‘flame-coloured’. The name for the scientific genus of flamingos is pheonicopterus which comes from the Greek and means ‘blood red-feathered.’
But flamingos are coloured through a range of pink hues from a very pale pink so delicate that it almost appears white through to a plush orange-rose.
When born, Flamingo chicks are a dull grey. No clues there then. But as they grow, they ingest a huge amount of beta carotene from their food. So, as it turns out, the flamingos magnificent plumage is a direct result of what they eat.
Flamingos are wading birds – hence those longs legs – that live in shallow water habitats and feed on blue-green algae as well as shrimp, insects, crustaceans and molluscs. They stir up mud with their feet, flushing the food from the bottom and then dip their bills upside-down in the water to filter food. The pigment molecules in their food (carotenoids) add the pink-reddish colour to their feathers as they develop. Flamingos that feed primarily on blue-green algae are darker than those that get the pigment second-hand from crustaceans. In cases when flamingos are not able to consume their favoured carotene-rich food sources, they remain either white or grey.
Flamingos: Fun Facts
- There are six species of flamingo.
- Four live in the Americas and the Caribbean, while two live in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
- When flamingo chicks are about 14 days old, they congregate in groups or crèches, a protective measure that makes them less exposed to predators.
- The chick turns pink within the first 18 months and its beak curves as it grows up. Flamingos live between 20 and 30 years in the wild, but birds have been known to live much longer in captivity.
- One captive flamingo lived to 83.
- They are commonly known to stand on one leg and tuck their bill under a wing.
- Nobody knows exactly why they do this but some scientists believe that it may be a form of heat preservation.