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Birds - American Flamingo

Region: Americas

Class: Aves

Order: Phoenicopteriformes

Family: Phoenicopteridae

Genus: Phoenicopterus

Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus ruber ruber

Description: Length: 1.7 m. Females are smaller. Sexes are similar. Both legs and neck are long and slender. The beak is large with a downward bend and is specialized for filter feeding.

Distribution: Atlantic coast of subtropical and tropical America, locally Bahamas, Cuba, Hispaniola, Yucatan and Guiana

Habitat: Brackish water of salt lakes and lagoons.

Food: Chiefly blue-green algae and diatoms

Skin/Color/Coat: Legs and feet are pink. Fore part of the face is bare and grey in colour. Plumage entirely pink and of various shades.

Vocalization: Flamingoes make a variety of loud honks and high squeaks.

Reproduction and Development: Nests are usually made of mud which is raked up by the bird with its bill into the form of truncated cone from 15-30 cm high, with a shallow depression on top. Nests are built in shallow water or on open expanses of wet mud, but occasionally it builds on the dry mud flats or even on small, rocky islands on lagoons. In this case, the nest may consist of only a small mound of grasses and gravel or a depression surrounded by a low parapet of clay pellets formed by the bird. Normally, one egg is laid, rarely two. Incubation is shared by male and female and lasts 30-32 days. Until its bill has developed the characteristic shape, a young flamingo is unable to feed itself and relies on its parents. To feed a chick, a parent stands behind it and lowers its neck so the chick may take the tip of the parents bill into its own. The adult regurgitates liquified food which runs down the chick's throat. The parents seems to be able to recognize their own chicks even when they are amongst a dense crowd of other chicks. These crowds are always accompanied by adults that can lead them away from danger.

Adaptations: Highly gregarious, nesting colonies often contain thousands of pairs. Flamingos extract their food from the water by a filtering mechanism, very much like that used by the Blue Whale. They wade through the water with necks lowered and heads turned upside down, sweeping from side to side. The upper and lower portions of the bill are fringed with bristles which trap particles as the flamingo sucks and expells water with the powerful tongue acting as a pump. The outer layer of coarse bristles keeps out large particles, while minute algae such as the diatoms are collected on an array of bristles inside the bill.

Threats: Eagles may pick up young flamingos for food. The main human menace to them is the destruction of their coastal habitat and nesting sites by "development".

Status: Common