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Amazing Island Nature: the fabulous flamingo

January 10, 2019

Don't you think flamingos are some of the very most gorgeous island creatures? I just learned that this stunningly beautiful bird's name comes from the Spanish or Portuguese word flamengo, meaning "with the color of flame." How could you not love a bird with a name like that? Or with such improbably long (but nonetheless practical) legs?

(Flamingos in the botanical garden, Guadeloupe. Photo by Zickie Allgrove.)

 

On an island getaway last summer to Guadeloupe, we Island Runaways stood and stared for a good long while as these intriguingly pink birds poked through the shallow waters in search of a snack. While I've loved flamingos for years, I knew almost nothing about them. So it's high time we discover five facts about the fabulous flamingo. Here goes:

 

1. There are 6 species of Flamingo. Four of those species live in the New World or the Americas. This includes the Caribbean islands, the Galapagos islands, the Mexican Caribbean, and South America. Two types of New World flamingo live in the High Andes region. In the "Old World," the two species of flamingo inhabit parts of southern Europe, Africa, and south and southwest Asia.

 (Vibrant flamingo color. Photo by Art G., Flickr.)

 

2. There are theories why flamingos stand on one leg, but no one knows with absolute certainty. One theory goes that flamingos do this to conserve body heat (when they're standing in chilly water). but flamingos hanging out in warm water also stand on one leg. So this classic flamingo pose remains a mystery!

 

3. The flamingo's beak is pretty unusual. For one thing, they're actually upside down. Also, their beaks can separate silt and mud from their food. As for their diet, they eat brine shrimp and blue-green algae. 

(A flamingo in the Galapagos. Photo by Steven Bedard, Flickr.)

 

4. Why are flamingos pink? Their lovely color comes from caretenoids contained in shrimp and the plants they eat. Interestingly, flamingos who eat more blue-green algae have a darker hue.

(A richly hued flamingo. Photo by Robert Claypool, Flickr.)

 

5. Flamingos generally aren't loners; in fact, they're extremely social. Some flamingo colonies can run in the thousands. It's common for flamingos to form lasting pairs of one male and one female. The pair builds and protects the nest, and both parents are able to feed baby flamingos. Last fact? When babies are about 2 weeks old they join "micro-creches," or mini nurseries. In other words, they go into flamingo day care!

 (Flamingos being social. Photo by Chirag Jog, Flickr.)

 

We hope you've enjoyed this brief fact-finding post about one of nature's wonders. Have you ever spotted a flamingo on a Caribbean island? Or perhaps in the Galapagos? Let us know!

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