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What is a Greater Flamingo?

The Greater Flamingo is a striking bird, renowned for its vibrant pink plumage and elegant, long legs. As the tallest of its kind, it wades in shallow waters, sifting for food with its unique beak. This species' social behavior and migratory patterns are as fascinating as its appearance. How do these majestic creatures maintain their colorful feathers? Continue with us to uncover the secrets of the Greater Flamingo.
G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

The greater flamingo is the most common and prevalent species of flamingo, and is typically what a person will picture when asked to imagine a flamingo. They are large birds, standing on two long skinny legs, with a long neck and a noticeably hooked bill. Their legs and heads are typically pink in color, and their feathers are often pink and white in coloration. The greater flamingo tends to feed on small crustaceans, insects, and algae by thrusting its black bill down into mud and water, and filtering the solid foods away from the liquids.

Also called Phoenicopterus roseus, the greater flamingo is found throughout much of the world, from North America to Africa, and commonly seen in India as well; it is also an incredibly popular bird among private collectors and zoos. This is likely due to its unique, pink plumage that is a result of a diet of small crustaceans similar to shrimp, without which the flamingo’s feathers will typically be more white or pale pink in color. They tend to live near saltwater, and often prefer large lakes and areas of muddiness where they can feed and mate. While they will sometimes migrate during mating season, their natural movements are someone difficult to determine due to human interference, which has spread the greater flamingo well beyond its initial habitats.

A greater flamingo.
A greater flamingo.

Once a mate is found, the greater flamingo will typically lay only a single egg on a mud pile. The male and female take turns protecting and incubating the egg. The baby flamingo that hatches is typically white and will not develop pink coloration until about two years after hatching. Though small when born, an adult greater flamingo can grow to about four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) in height, and around five to eight pounds (about 2.3 to 3.6 kg) in weight. They can fly and are quite effective swimmers, and usually prefer muddy banks or shallow pools for feeding.

In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, greater flamingoes were used as croquet mallets.
In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, greater flamingoes were used as croquet mallets.

A greater flamingo feeds by thrusting its curved bill into mud or pools of water, and filtering the liquid through a special structure within the bill. This separates the liquids from the solid insects, algae, and crustaceans that the flamingo then consumes. The full life span of a greater flamingo is not definitively known, though the oldest living flamingo in captivity has lived for at least 75 years. They are also the state bird of Gujarat, India, and were made especially famous for being used as croquet mallets in Lewis Carroll’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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    • A greater flamingo.
      By: Chlorophylle
      A greater flamingo.
    • In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, greater flamingoes were used as croquet mallets.
      By: Elena Schweitzer
      In the story Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, greater flamingoes were used as croquet mallets.