Also known as the Caribbean flamingo, the American flamingo is the only species in the family native to North America.
American Flamingo Scientific Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Phoenicopteriformes
- Family: Phoenicopteridae
- Genus: Phoenicopterus
- Species: Phoenicopterus ruber
American Flamingo Appearance
- Lifespan: 40 years
- Height: 47 to 57 inches
- Weight: 4.9 to 6.2 pounds
- Top speed: 31-37 mph
With their reddish-pink plumage and stilt-like legs, flamingos are highly recognizable, iconic birds. Still, an untrained eye can confuse them with the roseate spoonbill.
The average individual stands about 47 to 57 inches tall — or about the size of four bowling pins stacked atop one another. Females weigh approximately 4.9 pounds and males 6.2.
American flamingos are primarily covered in rosy pink feathers with red wing coverts and black flight feathers. They also have unique pink, white, and black bills that bend downwards and contain a natural filter mechanism.
American flamingos’ legs are entirely pink, long, and rail-thin. But don’t let their apparent frailness fool you!
This species of flamingos has incredibly tough skin and scales on its legs that prevent burns. It serves as protection against highly toxic waters. Plus, their feet are webbed and help the birds stir up food from water bed bottoms.
Did you know? American flamingo parents produce baby food in their digestive systems.
American Flamingo Range & Habitat
American flamingos are found in parts of North and South America.
American Flamingo Range
The distribution of flamingos range spans southern parts of the Americas and various Caribbean islands, including the Galápagos Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Yucatán Peninsula, Cameron Parish in Louisiana, South Florida, and the Florida Keys.
Until about 1900, flocks of flamingos from the Bahamas regularly migrated to Florida Bay, in what is now Everglades National Park.
Additionally, American flamingos are vagrants in Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Honduras, and Barbados, meaning they stop by for a portion of the year.
Notably, American flamingos on the Galápagos Islands are much smaller than their Caribbean counterparts. Moreover, they exhibit sexual dimorphism, unlike colonies in other parts. Some scientists consider the Galápagos flock a subspecies, but it’s yet to be made official.
American Flamingo Habitat
These pink wading birds make homes near saline lagoons, shallow brackish lakes, alkaline lakes, and mudflats.
Due to their unique filtering physiology, American flamingos can survive in extreme wetland environments, including caustic soda lakes, high-altitude salt flats, and hypersaline lagoons.
When fresh water isn’t available, they activate special salt-removing glands that serve as built-in Britas.
They will migrate short distances to get food or when their current habitat has been disturbed.
- Continents: North, Central, and South Americas
- Countries: Anguilla; Aruba; Barbados; Bahamas; Belize; Bermuda; Bonaire; Brazil, British Virgin Islands; Canada; Cayman Islands; Colombia; Cuba; Curaçao; Dominican Republic; Ecuador (Galápagos); Guyana; French Guiana; Guadeloupe; Haiti; Honduras; Jamaica; Mexico; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States; US Virgin Islands, Venezuela.
American Flamingo Behavior and Lifestyle
Generally speaking, American flamingos are non-migratory birds. However, researchers have documented shifts in certain populations’ flight patterns attributable to climate change.
American Flamingos switch between diurnal and nocturnal behavior as needed. They prefer to feed at night or in the very early morning when water surfaces are calm.
In terms of traveling, American flamingos take flight in the dark and use flock formations to harness wind power.
Ultimately, the American flamingo’s life is relatively uneventful. Since they typically live far from other species, predatory threats aren’t intense — although they do exist.
Mostly, they spend their days eating and hanging out. However, things pick up during mating season — which we’ll get to below.
American flamingos use goose-like honking noises to communicate.
American Flamingo Diet
American flamingos are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meats.
Their diets consist of shrimp, snails, blue-green and red algae, assorted plantlike water organisms, seeds, aquatic invertebrates, like brine and fly larvae, small insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and tiny fish.
American Flamingo Reproduction and Mating
American flamingos have intricate and fascinating mating behaviors.
American Flamingo Mating Rituals
The courting phase kick starts the American flamingo’s mating season, which begins in the spring. Typically, males initiate the process — but females are ultimately in control.
The guys will approach ladies in whom they’re interested. If the female reciprocates, she’ll start walking alongside the male. Occasionally, the male will drop out at this point if he decides she’s not the one.
If both parties agree to mate, the pair starts moving in unison. Low-intensity couples will simply walk side-by-side with their heads held high.
High-intensity pairs will jog together with their heads held low. When the female is ready for copulation, she’ll present herself to her chosen male.
American flamingos tend to stay near their partners for the season.
However, male-female partnerships aren’t the only combination in American flamingo communities. Some flamingos are promiscuous and run from partner to partner.
Throuples and quads are also fairly standard. Sometimes it’s two males and one female; other times, it’s two females and one male; and partnerships of a dominant male and female and subordinate male and female also exist.
And yes, they’re all accepted.
American Flamingo Nesting and Incubation
Sometime between May and August, females who’ve chosen to mate lay one large egg on a mud mound. Both males and females help incubate it and do 21- to 60-hour shifts.
This period lasts for about 28 to 32 days, at which point healthy eggs hatch. During their off-duty time, they feed.
In throuples with one male and two females, the subordinate female is usually tolerated by the male and fights with the other female.
If they both lay eggs, the ladies will actively try to destroy the others by pushing them out of their respective nests. When there are two guys and one lady, the subordinate male is tolerated by both and typically becomes the primary caregiver.
In situations with two males and two females, the dominant male-female pair will care for the nest, the subordinate males guard the nest’s periphery, and the second female occasionally lends a wing. In quads, there is much less animosity between the two females.
American Flamingo Chicks and Life Expectancy
After the chicks arrive, they stay nested for about seven to 11 days and are watched constantly by their parents. Mom, dad, and others in the partnership take turns caretaking and feeding.
After the first week or two, the chicks form into creches — the flamingo preschool equivalent. They hang out with other chicks their age and start learning how to be a flamingo. At night, they head back to their parents, who feed them.
Though young flamingos can handle feeding themselves after about four months, they keep family bonds with their parents for about six years or until they reach sexual maturity.
Baby American flamingos are called “chicks.” They don’t hatch from the egg with pink feathers. Instead, they’re either gray or white and start turning rosy around two years old.
Furthermore, they don’t have a bent beak at birth. It’s straight for the first several years and curls downward as they age.
American flamingo’s life expectancy is about 40 years, making them one of the longest living birds on the planet.
American Flamingo Conservation Status
American Flamingo Predators and Threats
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists American flamingos as an animal of Least Concern.
The bird’s relatively stable population is partly due to protection conferred by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, which addresses global conservation efforts related to species with annual migrations.
But just because an animal is lower on the concern scale doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. Other human threats that currently impact the American flamingo include:
- Development: The ceaseless creation of new roads, highways, and housing construction is causing habitat loss to the flamingos.
- Irrigation: Certain desert irrigation tactics have altered water levels in flamingo habitats. As a result, American flamingos are being displaced — and they’re running out of places to go.
- Low-Flying Aircraft: “Eco-tourism” is a recent trend. Some of it is genuinely great and beneficial, but bad apples also abound. For example, low-flying aircraft that take tourists into flamingo nesting and feeding grounds cause problems for the stilted avians.
American flamingos must be on the lookout for storks, feral pigs, raccoons, eagles, vultures, kites, and foxes in terms of natural predators. Generally, adult birds are reasonably safe.
But American flamingo eggs and hatchlings are not. Mama and papa flamingos can be just as vicious as “mama bears.”
American Flamingo Facts
Here are some interesting facts about the Caribbean flamingos:
- The collective noun for a group of American flamingos is called flamboyance.
- An American flamingo’s wingspan is about 60 inches. That’s about the length of Danny Devito lying down. But the animal beats the actor by an inch!
- Thanks to the shape of their feet, American flamingos can “run” on water.
- Thanks to their special beak filters, American flamingos can drink water at near boiling point.
- Flamingos use special movements and calls when it’s time to breed. The goal is to get as many birds back to the colony to lay eggs simultaneously for better protection. Plus, a big part of flamingo rearing is the creche, aka flamingo preschool. For proper development, in the flamingo world, newborns need a group of peers from early on.
- American flamingos often stand on one leg. Scientists have yet to give a decisive reason why, but there’s a growing school of thought that posture helps regulate body temperature.