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Flamingos, Phoenicopteridae

Thousands of Lesser Flamingos at Lake Nakuru

FAMILY: Phoenicopteridae

Genus: Phoenicopterus

Flamingos or flamingoes are a type of wading bird in the genus Phoenicopterus (from Greek meaning "purple wing"), the only genus
in the family Phoenicopteridae. There are four flamingo species in the Americas and two species in the Old World.

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

Flamingos often stand on one leg, the other tucked beneath the body. The reason for this behavior is not fully understood.
Some suggest that 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 legs and then let the other half sleep, but this has not been proven. Recent research has indicated 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. As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food
from the bottom. Or perhaps they just like to stand onm one leg at a time.

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.

Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Their 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 pink or reddish color of flamingos comes from carotenoid
proteins in their diet of animal and plant plankton. These proteins are broken down into pigments by liver enzymes.
The source of this varies by species, and affects the saturation of color. Flamingos whose sole diet is blue-green algae are darker
in color compared to those who get it second hand (e.g. from animals that have digested blue-green algae). Zoo-fed flamingos, who often lack the color enhancer in their diet, may be given food with the additive canthaxanthin.

Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor in Chilika, Orissa, India.
Photo: © J.M. Garg

Flamingos are very social birds that live in colonies that can number in the thousands. These large colonies are believed to serve
three purposes for the flamingos: predator avoidance, maximizing food intake, and exploiting scarce suitable nesting sites.
The most basic and stable social unit of flamingos are pair bonds which are made up of one male and one female. The bond
between them tends to be strong; however, in larger colonies (where there are more mates to choose from), mate changes will
occur. In pair bonds, both the male and the female contribute to building the nest for their egg and defending it.

Before breeding, flamingo colonies split into breeding groups of around 15-50 birds. Both males and females in these groups
perform synchronized ritual displays. These displays serve to both stimulate synchronous nesting and establish pair formation for
birds that do not already have mates. A flamingo group stands together and display to each other by rasing neck, followed by
calling with head-flagging and then wing flapping. The displays do not seem to be directed towards an individual but instead
occur randomly.

Flamingos will viciously defend their nesting sites and young. After the chicks hatch, the only parental expense is feeding.
Flamingos produce a crop milk, like pigeons and doves, 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. In the first six days, the adults and chicks stay in the nesting sites. At around seven to twelve days the chicks begin to move
and explore their surroundings. After two weeks, the chicks join groups called "microcrèches" and their parent soon leave them in
these groups. Later, many microcrèches come together to form crèches which contain thousands of chicks. Chicks that do not
stay in their crèches are vulnerable to predators.

Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus

Photo: © www.arthurgrosset.com

The Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus, is the most widespread species of the flamingo family. It is found in parts of Africa,
southern Asia (coastal regions of Pakistan and India), and southern Europe (including Spain, Albania, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus,
Portugal, Italy and the Camargue region of France). Some populations are short distance migrants, and sightings north of the
breeding range are relatively frequent; however, given the species' popularity in captivity, whether or not these are truly wild
individuals is a matter of some debate. A single bird was seen on North Keeling Island (Cocos (Keeling) Islands) in 1988.
The Greater Flamingo is the state bird of Gujarat, India.

This is the largest species of flamingo, averaging 110–150 cm tall and weighing 2–4 kg. The largest male flamingos have been recorded at up to 187 cm (74 in) tall and 4.5 kg. Most of the plumage is pinkish-white, but the wing coverts are red and the
primary and secondary flight feathers are black. The bill is pink with a restricted black tip, and the legs are entirely pink.
The call is a goose-like honking.

Like all flamingos, this species lays a single chalky-white egg on a mud mound.

They are usually found in large colonies and are partly migratory.
Photo: © www.arthurgrosset.com

Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor

Lesser Flamingo at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, Gloucestershire, England.
Taken by Adrian Pingstone in June 2003 and released to the public domain.

The Lesser Flamingo, Phoenicopterus minor, is a species in the flamingo family of birds that resides in Africa (principally in the
East African Rift) and in southern Asia. Birds are occasionally reported from further north, but these are generally considered
to be escapees.

The Lesser Flamingo is the smallest and most numerous flamingo, probably numbering up to two million individual birds.
They generally weigh 2.0 kg, are 85cm long, stand in 1 m) tall, and have a wingspan of 1 m).

Most of the plumage is pinkish white. The clearest difference between this species and Greater Flamingo, the only other Old
World species, is the much more extensive black on the bill. Size is less helpful unless the species are together, since the sexes
of each species also differ in height.

This species feeds primarily on Spirulina, algae which grow only in very alkaline lakes. Although blue-green in colour, the algae
contain the photosynthetic pigments that give the birds their pink colour. Their deep bill is specialised for filtering tiny food items.
The lesser flamingo also feeds on shrimp.

Lesser Flamingos, Phoeniconaias minor, flying over Lake Nakuru, Kenya
Photo: JerryFriedman, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Phoeniconaias_minor3.jpg

Lesser Flamingos are prey to a variety of species, including Marabou Storks, Baboons, African Fish Eagles and Wildcats.

In Africa, where they are most numerous, the Lesser Flamingos breed principally on the highly caustic Lake Natron in northern
Tanzania. Their other African breeding sites are at Etosha Pan, Sua Pan and Kamfers Dam. The last confirmed breeding at
Aftout es Saheli in coastal Mauritania was in 1965. Breeding occurred at Lake Magadi in Kenya in 1962 when Lake Natron
was unsuitable due to flooding. In the early 20th century breeding was also observed at Lake Nakuru.

The species also breeds in south-western and southern Asia. In 1974 they bred at the Rann of Kutch, but since then only
at the Zinzuwadia and Purabcheria salt pans in north-western India.

Like all flamingos, they lay a single chalky white egg on mounds they build of mud. Chicks join creches soon after hatching,
sometimes numbering over a hundred thousand individuals. The creches are marshalled by a few adult birds who lead them by
foot to fresh water, a journey that can reach over 32 km.




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