Birds: Flamingos

Flamingos are easily-recognized, long-legged water bird species with a characteristic pink color on their feathers. They live in shallow, salty lagoons and lakes, in tropical regions of the world and they have a very unique feeding method. Flamingos filter their food out of water and mud and their odd, down-turned bill is one of the most specialized bills of all birds. It is lined with complicated horny plates, much like the baleen plates in a baleen whale’s mouth.

They use this special bill by holding it upside down in the water. They then swing the bill back and forth, and form a suction pump with their tongue to pump water through the bill’s filtering plates.

Some Flamingos are after larger items, like crustaceans and insects. Others, such as the Lesser Flamingo, have very dense filter plates- they can trap tiny blue-green algae plants less than two hundredths of an inch long.

Flamingos’ pink color comes primarily from the tiny algae and crustaceans they eat. Flamingos kept in zoos may lose their pink coloration. To prevent this, zoos often feed their flamingos a special pellet diet that contains the pigments found in their natural food.