|With their bright feathers, strongly hooked bills, and long thin legs, Flamingos are among the most easily recognized water-birds. The Mexican Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) is the largest and most brightly colored species; with their outer layer of scarlet pink feathers and black primary undercoat.
Pink is the Perfect Color!
Why are Flamingos pink? The cause of the Flamingo’s “pretty pink plumage” is related to what a Flamingo eats. The Flamingo’s diet consists largely of blue-green and red algae, small insects, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish. These food sources, primarily the algae, are rich in alpha and beta cartenoid (think carrots) pigments, and it is these pigments that give the Flamingo’s feathers their color.
The Flamingo also has very distinctive eating habits. Long legs let Flamingos wade into deeper water than most other birds to look for food. To eat, Flamingos need to hold their bill upside down in the water! They feed by sucking water and mud in at the front of their bill, and then pumping it out again at the sides. Here, briny plates called lamellae act like tiny filters, trapping shrimp and other small water creatures for the Flamingo to eat. For big meals such as molluscs, and larger crustaceans, they have to wade into shallow water and dig through the mud. Sometimes they swim to get their food, and sometimes by “upending” (tail feathers in the air, head underwater) like ducks.
The More the Merrier
Flamingos are social birds that like to live in groups of varying sizes, from a few pair to sometimes thousands or tens of thousands. They appear to be monogamous, with mating pairs staying together over a lifetime. Not only are Flamingo’s gregarious and adapt well to living in close quarters with one another, but have also developed distinct displays which they exhibit in synchrony (for a description of these displays, check out the ‘Flingo Lingo’ box below!).
Up, Up, and Away!
In order to fly, flamingos need to run a few paces to gather speed. This speed is not related to the ground but rather to the air, so they usually take off facing into the wind. In flight, flamingos are quite distinctive, with their long necks stretched out in front and the equally long legs trailing behind. Their outstretched wings showcase the pretty black and red (or pink) coloration. When flying, flamingos flap their wings fairly rapidly and almost continuously. And, as with most other flamingo activities, they usually fly together in large flocks. The flamingos follow each other closely, using a variety of formations that help them take advantage of the wind patterns.
Flamingos make their home in lagoons and lakes where there is lots of shallow water. Keep an eye out for them as you travel around the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula. Remember that man is a Flamingo’s worst enemy, so take a picture and move on; let’s keep these beautiful birds a part of Mexico!