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American flamingo

Phoenicopterus ruber

Description: The American flamingo is a large bird with long pink legs and webbed feet. The plumage is a distinctive pink, with black on the flight feathers (the long feathers at the tips of the wings). The bill is pink and white with a black tip. The plumage coloring comes from the carotene that is found in the food that is eaten, such as brine shrimp.

Size: The American flamingo stands about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and weighs approximately 4 – 8 pounds (1.8 – 3.6 kg).

Behavior: They are very social birds, often flocking in the thousands, which is called a pat. They can walk easily through the shallow waters and run well when threatened. As characteristic of all wading birds, P. ruber often rest standing on one leg.

They feed with their head upside down, bill in the water, with the tongue pumping water through the bill to sift out food. American flamingos spend 15- 30% of the day preening, to distribute oil throughout their feathers.

Diet: The diet includes algae, diatoms, small fish, insects and crustaceans (such as shrimp) and mollusks. The main staple of their diet is larval and pupal forms of flies and brine shrimp.

Senses: Flamingos have little or no senses of smell or taste, but hearing and vision (with color perception) are good. Their excellent sense of touch (mainly tactile organs on their tongues) is important when foraging for food.

Communication: There are a variety of vocalizations, such as a goose-like call, honks and barks. During breeding season there are displays such as marching, wing-stretching and synchronized head-turning. They are quite noisy, using various sounds to keep their flock together, communicate with each other and their chicks.

Reproduction: Some flamingos mate for life and some have multiple partners. The mud cone nest is made of mud, straw, feathers and tiny stones. The nest is quite large and sometimes reaches heights of one to two feet (0.3 – 0.61 m). The female and male share in incubation which lasts about 27 to 31 days. The young are born with gray feathers and red beaks. The parents feed it a secretion from their upper digestive tract that is red in color. After four to seven days, the chick can stand and walk, but is able to swim immediately after hatching. The distinctive black hooked bill develops over about three months and then the chick can feed itself.

Habitat/range: They live in large shallow lakes, lagoons and mud flats in the Caribbean Islands, northern South America, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and the southern United Sates.

Status: The American flamingo is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, CITES Appendix II and along with the Chilean and Greater flamingos is protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act of 1918.