A flamingo is a type of wading bird found in tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas and Africa. Flamingos are among the most famous of the wading birds, thanks to their distinctive pink plumage, characteristic tendency to stand on one leg, and highly social behavior. In the wild, flamingos form huge colonies along lagoons, shorelines, and wetland areas. All flamingos are in the family Phoenicopteridae, and there are five distinct species of flamingo, one of which is threatened due to habitat reduction.
Flamingos vary in size depending on the species, but are on average three to five feet (90-150 centimeters) tall with long spindly legs and necks, a short tail, and large muscular wings. The plumage of a flamingo ranges from pink to orange, with two distinctive black marks on the front of the wing. The webbed feet of the flamingo are ideal for gripping the muddy bottoms of lagoons and lakes, and the muscular wings allow flamingos to fly, as long as they get a running start.
The amazing pink color of the flamingo comes from the foods it eats. Flamingos eat by churning up mud and water in the lagoons where they feed and then dipping their beaks into the mixture and filtering out edible plants, algae, and crustaceans. The foods flamingos eat are high in carotene, which dyes their plumage. When flamingos eat a diet without this nutrient, they turn white. The loss of color is not necessarily a sign of poor nutrition, but because people expect flamingos to be pink, most zoos supplement their flamingo diet with carotene.
Flamingos build raised nests out of mud, so that the egg will not be flooded if the water level rises. The female flamingo lays one large egg, which the pair takes turns incubating until it hatches. After approximately two weeks, the young flamingo starts to explore the world along with other flamingos in a gang called a crèche. The crèche may choose to stay at the same lagoon, or explore another territory somewhere else.
Few natural predators attack the flamingo, because the bird tends to congregate in inhospitable areas with brackish or alkaline water and little vegetation. Other birds and animals do not favor that type of habitat, allowing flamingos to live more or less unmolested. Humans do pose a threat to flamingos by damaging their natural habitat in a variety of ways including increasing salinity of the water, building structures, or siphoning the water off for other purposes. As a result, the Andean Flamingo is considered vulnerable and several other species will soon be at risk.