Greater flamingos are the most widespread — but not most populous — species of flamingo. They’re also the largest flamingo species, yet their coloring is among the lightest of the family.
Greater Flamingo Scientific Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Phoenicopteriformes
- Family: Phoenicopteridae
- Genus: Phoenicopterus
- Species: Phoenicopterus roseus
Greater Flamingo Appearance
- Lifespan: 40 years
- Wingspan: 60 inches
- Height: 43 to 59 inches
- Weight: 4.4 to 8.8 pounds
- Top speed: 31-37 mph
Greater flamingos usually stand between 43 and 59 inches tall. If standing next to a 6-foot-tall person, the bird is about as high as the human’s thigh.
They typically weigh between 4.4 and 8.8 pounds and have a wingspan of 60 inches.
To date, the largest recorded greater flamingo was a male who reached 74 inches tall and weighed about 10 pounds.
Greater flamingos have several different feather colors. Unlike the American flamingo, their top plumage is primarily light pink, while their primary and secondary flight feathers are black. Greater flamingo’s wing coverts are red.
Like all animals in the family, greater flamingos get their pink color from their food, which is rich in carotenoid pigments. Interestingly, adults’ colorful plumage becomes brighter during the mating period and paler when feeding their chicks.
The birds have long, skinny, pink legs, elongated, curved necks, and small heads with one small, yellow eye on each side. Their downward-turned bills are bright pink with a black tip.
Greater flamingos have webbed feet, but unlike the lesser flamingo, they don’t have a hind toe.
Did you know? Greater flamingos have been known to skip mating seasons in times of drought and food scarcity.
Greater Flamingo Range & Habitat
Greater flamingos live in warm bodies of salt water and are found in many regions including Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Central and South America.
The most northern breeding spot detected is near the Berkel River, which sits along the border of Germany and the Netherlands.
As is the case with all flamingo species, these pink birds live near highly alkaline lakes, estuaries, mudflats, and coastal lagoons with salt water.
- Continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania
- Countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Sao Tomé and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, China, Congo, DR Congo, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lesotho, Malta, Mauritius, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niger, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan
Wetlands (inland) | Marine Neritic
Greater Flamingo Behavior and Lifestyle
Greater flamingos are graceful on land, and they’re excellent swimmers. They hang out in giant flocks, in part for protection. Since greater flamingos sometimes bury their heads while eating, they look out for one another.
Generally, flamingos eat and fly at night. It’s easier to acquire food when the waters are calm; plus, the night winds are more conducive to their flying formation.
One of the most fascinating things about greater flamingos — like all flamingos — is that they often stand on one leg.
Researchers aren’t positive about why the birds do this, but the leading theory is that it conserves energy. They also sleep standing on one leg. While Slumbering, they also turn their necks backward and rest their heads on their bodies.
Greater Flamingo Diet
Greater flamingos are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. However, most of the “meat” they eat is teeny-tiny.
They like to feast on very small shrimp, tiny fish, aquatic invertebrates, blue-green algae, plankton, fly larvae, microscopic organisms, and mollusks.
To find sustenance, greater flamingos use their feet to stir up the bottom of a body of water and then bury their bills to catch food.
They end up scoping up a whole bunch of mud but are able to filter out the nutrients because they have built-in filters. Sometimes, flamingos will bury their entire head in the soil to hunt for food.
Greater Flamingo Reproduction and Mating
The flamingo mating and breeding rituals are similar for all six flamingo species. Basically, males try to impress the females, and the latter ultimately choose their mates.
Matches usually last the whole breeding and rearing season because the parents play a role in incubating, teaching, and feeding the chicks.
Greater Flamingo Mating Rituals and Breeding
Depending on a flock’s location, mating happens sometime between October and February during times of high water.
Not only does the wetter weather make the necessary mud for the incubation mounds, but it serves as a protective barrier. During the rainy season, land predators cannot reach the flocks.
Greater flamingos lay a single chalky-white egg on a mud mound in shallow water. On rare occasions, a couple will produce two. Both the mother and father take turns incubating, which takes about 28 days.
Interestingly, all greater flamingo partnerships aren’t all pairs. Sometimes they form throuples and quads of varying sex configurations.
To wit, two females may land with one male, and both females lay an egg. In these scenarios, the ladies typically don’t get along and will try to sabotage each other’s eggs.
Flamingo families with two males and one female also occur — as do partnerships of two females and two males. When there are four in a group, the less dominant males and females don’t reproduce but help guard the nest, egg, and hatchlings.
Greater flamingos go through a mating ritual every breeding season. Brighter birds almost always have more success finding a partner, and scientists have observed that some couples are more attracted to each other.
High-attraction couples sprint with their heads held low upon choosing each other and going off to mate, whereas lower-attraction couples do a slower jot and keep their heads held high.
Greater Flamingo Chicks
Chicks are born with gray and white down. After a few months, they start turning brown, and around age 2, greater flamingos start getting their pink feathers.
Soon after hatching, chicks join creches — which can be as large as 100,000 babies. Think of creches as preschools for chicks.
The mobs of baby flamingos are guided by a handful of adults who take them on their first field trip to freshwater, which can be up to 20 miles away. Chicks also learn lessons about being a flamingo while in creches.
Young fledglings stick around their family units for about 75 days. Both females and males provide crop milk to their chicks. At around 6 years old, greater flamingos reach sexual maturity.
Greater Flamingo Lifespan
The average lifespan of a greater flamingo is about 40 years in the wild. In captivity, they live 20 years longer or more.
Greater Flamingo Conservation Status
Greater Flamingo Predators and Threats
However, when water levels are high for part of the year, flamingos are isolated from terrestrial predators and only have to worry about airborne threats, like the Marabou stork and various types of eagles and vultures.
Apart from natural predators, humans have become a significant threat to flamingos in recent decades.
- Due to the construction of highways and roads, flamingo environments have become more accessible to both people and land predators, which puts the animals at greater risk.
- Coastal desert irrigation is a huge problem for several flamingo flocks. It alters water levels in their habitats, which impedes breeding and feeding.
- Mining of lithium, nitrates, potassium, boron, and molybdenum is causing habitat disturbances for certain greater flamingo populations.
- Greater flamingos in Africa contending with various development projects. If a proposed power plant is allowed on Kenya’s Lake Natron, it could have a devastating impact on the flamingo population.
- Low-flying aircraft that cater to tourists, bird enthusiasts, and photographers disrupt flamingo nesting and feeding grounds.
- General pollution is another big concern when it comes to flamingo conservation.
Greater Flamingo Facts
Here are a couple of interesting facts about greater flamingos:
- Greater flamingos were first described by Peter Simon Pallas in 1811.
- Greater flamingos are obligate filter eaters with about 10,000 microscopic layers in their bills, which are used for sifting toxic elements.
- Since greater flamingos become noticeably more vibrant during the mating season, scientists joke that they “put on makeup” to date.
- The collective noun for greater flamingos can be called a “colony,” “flock,” or “flamboyance.”
- Greater flamingos sometimes flock with lesser flamingos on the African continent.
- Greater flamingos fly with their long necks extended.
- Greater flamingos are most similar to Chilean flamingos.
- The early Romans enjoyed flamingo tongues as a meal. They were removed from the animals, carefully prepared, and pickled. In some cultures today, flamingo eggs are still considered a delicacy.
- Miners in South America used to kill flamingos for their fat, which was believed to be a cure for tuberculosis.
- Flamingos are a prehistoric species. Archaeologists have found fossil records that are Eocene in age (dating back 50 million years).