41 Interesting Facts About Flamingos

Last updated on July 10th, 2024

The very word flamingo brings to mind those flock of tall, slender birds with extremely long and curvy S-shaped necks, curved beaks and delightfully pink feathers, often wading through shallow waters on their long legs or simply standing on one leg. The graceful shape of the birds has encouraged many artists and photographers to capture their forms either in paint or film, thus making them familiar to us.

However, exactly how much do we know about flamingos and their habitats, social behavior, different species, etc.? Flamingos are actually one of the most delightfully interesting animals with many unique traits and abilities. So, we chose to take a deep dive and gather some of the most interesting and curious flamingo facts that will only endear you more to these wonderful animals.

Facts about Flamingos

1. Origin of the name

The etymology of the word ‘flamingo’ is not established. Some believe it came from the Spanish word flamenco (noting the similarities between flamenco rhythm and the synchronized and rhythmic behavior of flamingos when they are in flight). According to another camp, the word is derived from the Portuguese word ‘falameng’ (meaning ‘flame-colored’).

2. Out of 6 species, 1 is considered vulnerable

In all, there are six different species of flamingos: Andean, Chilean, Puna, Lesser, Greater, and Caribbean or American flamingos. Among these, only the Andean flamingos are listed as “vulnerable”. Currently, there are only about 40,000 bird left of this species.

3. Migratory Birds

Some flamingo species migrate great distances between breeding and feeding grounds.

flamingoes drinking water, facts about flamingos
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – JamesDeMers

4. The smallest species of flamingos

The smallest species of all flamingos is the lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor). Lesser flamingos prefer highly alkaline or saline lakes and estuaries, where they feed primarily on blue-green algae and other microscopic organisms. Their unique filter-feeding system allows them to thrive in these environments, which are often too harsh for many other species. They are predominantly found in East Africa, Southern Africa (Botswana and Namibia), West Africa (Mauritania and Senegal) and South Asia (India and Pakistan).

5. The largest species of flamingos

The largest species of all flamingos is the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus). Greater flamingos prefer shallow coastal lagoons, estuaries, mudflats, and inland lakes where they can feed on a diet of algae, small crustaceans, and other invertebrates. They are widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy, and Greece), Indian subcontinent, Middle East and western Asia (Iran and Kazakhstan).

6. Lifespan

Flamingos live longer than most wading birds including egrets, pelicans and more. The average lifespan of a flamingo in the wild is 20-30 years whereas those living in controlled captivity (zoos, aviaries etc.) can often live well beyond 50 years.

facts about flamingos: pink beak - flamingo

7. The oldest Flamingo in captivity

Greater, a flamingo living in the Adelaide Zoo in Australia, is the oldest living flamingo on record. The bird was 83 when it was euthanized by the zoo authorities as it was nearly blind by then and was suffering badly from acute arthritis.

8. A group of flamingos is called…

Did we say ‘flock’ there? Actually, there is a more fancy word for a group of flamingoes, namely ‘flamboyance!’ However, you’ll also hear them referred to as spats, stands, or colonies of flamingos.

9. Very light weighted birds

Flamingos have extremely low body density. A fully-grown 4 to 5 ft. tall bird will weigh between 4 and 8 lbs only. The light weight coupled with the birds’ unique body proportions helps them fly long distances.

flamingo pair flying

10. They are fast flyers

Talking about flying, these lanky birds can fly up to 500-600 km at a speed of 50-60 mph. They are also able to scale great heights (10,000– 15,000 ft) while flying.

11. They can actually run on water!

Flamingos can “run” on the water! Well, actually, the birds, with the help of their flippers, run a short distance swiftly over the surface of water before taking to flight.

12. Built-in Sunglasses 

Flamingos have a special membrane that can cover their eyes to protect them from bright sunlight and glare.

flamingoes sleeping while standing
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – Zimmerman76

13. They can sleep standing on one leg

We know that flamingos, ducks and many other water birds can stand for long stretches of time on one leg. Flamingos, however, can actually sleep while standing on one leg!

14. But why stand on one leg?

We mentioned the flamingo habit of standing on one leg. But why do they do that? Scientists are not entirely sure of it. Some informed hypotheses include preservation of muscle power and/or minimizing the loss of body heat.

facts about flamingos: chilean flamingo with leg bent forward
Image credit – ambquinn

15. They can’t bend their knees backwards

And talking of flamingo physiology, we may note here that contrary to what we ‘appear’ to see, flamingos don’t (and can’t) bend their knees backwards. It is actually their extremely long ankles that we mistake as knees.

16. Group Living

Like most wetland birds, flamingos are extremely social in nature and are often found in flocks of hundreds and even thousands. Living in large colonies protects them from predators.

Rosy flamingos
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – Richard Gillin

17. They are socially more active in spring and summer

It is also found that social interactions (in addition to mating) among flamingos increase during the spring and summer months.

18. Flamingos Form Friendships and Avoidances Within Large Colonies

In fact, recent findings reveal that a nuanced societal structure exists among flamingos even when they are living as part of large colonies. For example, some birds often form close bonds of friendship with certain chosen individuals from a large flock while stubbornly avoiding certain others!

flamingo with wings spread
Image credit – Pfüderi

19. Synchronized Dancing

Flamingos perform elaborate group courtship dances that look like synchronized swimming, with intricate moves and head bobbing.

20. They search their food in shallow water

Flamingos forage for their food in mud and shallow waters. Blue-green algae, small insects, insects’ larvae, and especially mollusks, shrimps, and other crustaceans list among their favorite grub.

21. Legs, Neck and Feet during food hunt

Their long legs allow them to wade into deeper waters where they can find more food. Their long necks also help to explore underwater. The large webbed feet help them to stir up mud in the water to uncover food.

flamingo head upside down while eating
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – Steve Harris

22. Up-Side-Down Eating

Flamingos feed with their heads upside down in the water, filtering food through their beaks.

23. Flexible Beaks

Flamingo beaks are specially adapted to filter out food from the water, and they can bend in ways most birds’ beaks can’t. Like many great whales and sharks, flamingos are actually filter feeders. The tongues and the beaks of these birds are lined with a hair-like structure called lamellae that does the job of filtering out slit and mud from their food.

24. Their food gives them the pinkish hue 

In fact, the delightfully pink and reddish hues of flamingo feathers actually happen to be a result of the food they eat. The large concentration of carotenoids in algae and crustaceans are responsible for coloring the flamingo feathers.

pinkish flamingo, for facts about flamingos
Image credit – Martinus Scriblerus

25. Unique Mating Rituals in Flamingos

Unlike most other birds (and other animals), mating rituals of flamingos are not restricted to male members of the family alone. Instead, both the males and females enact ritual displays to attract potential mates.

26. The loyal partners

Like Sandhill Cranes, Albatross, Bald Eagles and a few other birds, flamingos fall into the ‘monogamous’ bird species. In other words, they are birds that mate for life.

27. Flamingos Engage in Homosexuality

Flamingos are among the list of birds that engage in same-sex relationships.

28. Only one egg per year?

Yes, Flamingos also almost never lay more than one egg per year.

An adult Flamingo sitting on a nest at the Bird House
An adult Flamingo sitting on a nest at the Bird House. Image credit – Smithsonian’s National Zoo

29. Their nests look like mini volcanoes

Flamingo nests are also quite unique in appearance. These mud nests are shaped like ‘mini volcanoes’ and the birds, true to their social nature, build their nests in close proximity to each other.

30. Both male and female build the nest together

Another highly unusual fact about flamingos is that when it comes to the brooding and hatching of the egg, both mom and dad flamingo share the duties. They also build the nest together. Quite modern, we would say!

Caribbean flamingos
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – stephanie carter

31. Like Penguins, Flamingos also feed crop milk to their chicks

Flamingo chicks are fed with “crop milk” until they are big enough to forage for their own food. Flamingos don’t have mammary glands and the crop milk is produced in their upper digestive tracts (the ‘crop’) and is then fed to the chick through the mouth of the parent flamingo.

32. Both male and female produce crop milk

Also, crop milk is produced both in male and female flamingos, meaning the males again take equal responsibility when it comes to feeding the babies, too!

33. Chick’s Color

Flamingo chicks are born with gray or white feathers and take up to three years to develop their pink coloration.

Image credit – Kandukuru Nagarjun

34. Raising Chicks in Alkaline Lakes

Surprisingly enough, certain flamingo species raise their chicks in “soda” or alkaline lakes. Surprising since the extremely high concentration of salt in these lakes make the waters so corrosive that they will burn the skin of most animals. Researchers are yet to gain enough insights on a flamingo’s physiology to understand how they are able to raise their young ones in such places.

35. Crèche Formation After Two Weeks

Flamingo parents leave their babies alone once the latter are about 2 weeks old and these babies then stick close together in their own groups that are called ‘crèches’!

36. They can produce varied sounds

Flamingos are extremely noisy birds. Different types of vocalizations (nasal honking, grunts, growls) of the birds serve a number of purposes, including attracting mates, keeping large flocks of birds together, parent-young recognition and more.

37. The zoo with the maximum flamingoes

The zoo with the maximum number of flamingos is the San Diego Zoo in California, USA. The San Diego Zoo is renowned for its extensive collection of flamingos, particularly its large and impressive flock of greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus). Four out of the six flamingo species are raised here.

38. Mirrors in the zoo!

Zoos are known to use mirrors to encourage breeding behavior in flamingos. Apparently, the mirrors make the flamingos believe that they are living among much larger flocks than is actually the case.

39. A Flamingo at an airport!

Tampa International Airport (TPA) in Tampa, Florida, features a huge flamingo statue. The sculpture, titled “Home,” is a 21-foot-tall flamingo created by artist Matthew Mazzotta. It was installed in the airport’s main terminal and has become a notable attraction for travelers passing through the airport.

American Flamingos
Facts about flamingos. Image credit – vladeb

40. Symbolism in Ancient Egyptian Mythology

In the ‘Book of the Faiyum,’ Set, the ancient Egyptian god of storms, desert and violence, is depicted with the head of a flamingo.

41. “Flamingo tongue” is a delicacy 

And talking of flamingo tongues, they were actually considered to be ‘delicacies’ to peoples of Ancient Rome. As a matter of fact, foie gras was no less popular with the Romans as it is with us.