Classification

Scientific Name: Phoenicopterus ruper
Class: Aves
Order: Ciconiiformes
Family: Phoenicopteridae
Geographic distribution: Atlantic coast of tropical and subtropical America
Conservation status: Limited by reduced habitat


Physical Characteristics

American Flamingos are good waders and swimmers who congregate in large flocks. The most obvious distinguishing feature of these interesting birds are their pink plumage, and of the six flamingo species, the American flamingo is the most brightly colored. The American flamingo is the second largest flamingo, reaching about 43 to 49 inches tall and weighing up to 8 pounds. The American flamingo's lifespan can extend to as much as fifty years, although in the wild fifteen to twenty years is more typical.

Behavior in the Wild

American flamingos are not, in general, migratory birds although they will migrate if there is a severe change in climate or water levels in their breeding areas. They are very social birds and flock in their thousands. American flamingos are able to walk easily and can run when threatened, while they often rest standing on one leg.

Diet

Both males and females have the same colouration, which is derived from carotenoid pigments found in their food. In order to maintain this appearance, the flamingo needs a large quantity of carotene in its diet which it obtains from small aquatic creatures. The flamingo's primary method of feeding is similar to that of the baleen whale: it holds its bill upside down and sucks water through it. During this process, minute organisms are filtered out by a comb-like projection (lamallae) on the tongue while water and food that is too large too be swallowed can exit the bill by way of the slits in its sides. Flamingos prefer to feed in lakes with a high concentration of either saline or alkaline salts since these lead to the proliferation of the organisms on which they feed: usually a mix of insects, small shrimps, diatoms and algae.

Breeding

Flamingos can breed any time during the year although this activity takes place primarily during a short breeding season each year. American flamingos usually form new pairs each year although some pairs have been known to stay together for more than one breeding season.

Flamingos lay only one egg at a time, and both parents build the volcano-shaped nest together. After an incubation period of 28 days, the chicks hatch, covered with gray down which changes to pink slowly over several years. Young flamingos leave the nest after five days and form small groups, although they will return to the nest to feed. The adult produces a thick fluid in its digestive system which it then dribbles into the infant's bill. After about two weeks, the young start to find their own food and become completely independent of their parents, although they often continue to live in the same area.

Environment

Due to the flamingos prefered environment (they often live in water which is so alkaline that little vegetation can grow) they have few natural predators and in fact the greatest threat to flamingo populations is the loss of their habitat due to drainage programmes. The American flamingo can be found on the Yucatan peninsula, in parts of the West Indies, the Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands and the northernmost tip of South America. The lakes may be far inland or near the sea. They also live near mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands in the intertidal zone. American flamingos are listed as threatened by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The flamingos are also protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act of 1918, along with the Chilean and greater flamingo.

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