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Caribbean Flamingo

Caribbean Flamingo

Phoenicopterus ruber

The largest and most brightly colored of the flamingo species, the Caribbean flamingo comes from one of the most ancient bird families; their origins date back at least 10 million years. They are arboreal and terrestrial; they can fly, but they spend most of their time on the ground. Caribbean flamingos are not true migrants, but they disperse widely and may travel to different areas of their range. They commonly sleep in a one-legged pose with their bodies slanted. Sleeping birds pack together so tightly that if one bird were to lose balance, it could set off a domino effect. The purpose of holding one leg under the body is to keep their foot warm and conserve body heat in cool environments.

Flamingos are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species has an extremely large range and a large and stable population that has adapted well to the presence of humans. The biggest threats they face are habitat loss and disturbance. Caribbean flamingos are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Philadelphia Zoo has a large flock of Caribbean flamingos, and they are occasionally bred under a Species Survival Plan; this helps increase their population in zoos, which acts as assurance population.

Caribbean flamingos appear to be monogamous; the pair bond is maintained from year to year. Nests are a pile of mud formed into a cone with a shallow depression on top to cradle a single egg, protecting it from flooding and varying ground temps. Incubation is 27-32 days, and both parents take turns sitting. Parents are extremely protective. During the hatching, the parents position their heads against the egg and broadcast a high-pitched contact call through the shell. This is the way a chick can recognize its parents in the multitude of flamingos. Parents can assist in the hatching by tearing off pieces of eggshell. Young start off with a gray-white plumage and a straight beak. Unlike most birds (but similar to pigeons), both male and female parents feed the chick “milk,” which is similar in nutritional value to mammals’ milk. Chicks stay in the nest for 5-12 days and then join large groups of other chicks that are chaperoned by a few babysitting adults. They are independent in 65-90 days. Adult plumage is not attained for several years

What are they like?

Physical Description: Caribbean flamingos have bright pink feathers, a large black bill, and long legs and necks. They can be nearly 5 feet tall and weigh on average between 4.5-9 lbs.

Life Span: In the wild, Caribbean flamingos typically live 20-30 years. In zoos, they can live up to 50 years.

Diet: In the wild, Caribbean flamingos eat algae, crustaceans, and tiny mollusks. At the Zoo, our flamingos eat a formulated flamingo food which includes the carotenoids that give them their pink color.

Social Structure: Caribbean flamingos are highly social and form flocks with thousands of individuals.

Habitat: Caribbean flamingos live in large, shallow lakes or lagoons, which may be alkaline or saline. Lakes may be far inland, near the sea, or even connected to it. At the Zoo, the flamingos have a large yard with two large pools in addtion to an indoor space to protect them from the elements. Their yard is grassy and the ponds are large enough for the entire flock to enjoy. Their two yards are connected by a bridge, and they are usually seen moving through their habitat together as a group.

Where do they live?

Caribbean flamingos are found in the Caribbean, part of Central America, northeastern South America, and the Galapagos Islands.

Flamingo range 01 Caribbean & Central America
Flamingo range 02 South America

Did you know?

  • Caribbean flamingos commonly sleep in a one-legged pose with their bodies slanted. Sleeping birds pack together so tightly that if one bird were to lose balance, it could set off a domino effect.
  • They are very noisy birds and often gabble to each other like geese while feeding. The most important role of vocalization is to keep the flock together. They also perform honking, grunting and growling as adults, and chicks start cheeping several hours before they hatch.
  • The Philadelphia Zoo was the first zoo to keep their flamingos from turning white by adding carrot juice to their food. Today we use a special flamingo diet that gives them their bright color.

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