Know Your Local Firebird

Unique Adaptations Allow Flamingos to Survive Harsh Environments

by Vindia Robinson, age 11

            When you think of flamingos, you might think of those plastic pink lawn ornaments or maybe docile, tall, bright pink birds at the zoo. There is more to the greater flamingo that meets the eye.         
            Flamingos prefer to be surrounded by a body of water. The greater flamingo inhabits lagoons, salt pans and large shallow lakes from sea level to altitudes of over 9,900 feet. Often found in large groups, flamingos can live in temperatures that rise daily to more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Few animals can survive in such a climate and drink water that is twice as salty as an ocean.
            But flamingos can.
            The greater flamingo’s specialized feeding system also makes it unique. It’s one reason they stand out from other birds.
When feeding, a flamingo will hold its bill upside-down, facing backwards and horizontal to the water surface. Walking forward slowly, this tall bird swings its bill side to side. Its tongue then pumps water five to six times per second through partly open mandibles. Food such as algae, tiny crustaceans, mollusks and aquatic insects are filtered through a comblike structure in the bill and then swallowed. The flamingo can eat up to 9.5 ounces of tiny filtered food particles each day.
            The flamingo’s bright pink color, comes from pigments in the algae and it actually serves a purpose. Its pink feathers attract mates. (A poor diet can cause a bird to lose its color and the opportunity to breed.)
            The flamingo breeds when food supplies are plentiful and when the water level is high enough to soften the shoreline mud it uses to build its nest. Nests are built in large colonies on mudflats, salt pans and islands.
            Flamingos are beautiful and tough birds. They have developed unique adaptations that allow them to survive in a variety of hostile climates. Because they can withstand harsh conditions, they face few human threats.0

[Sources: Wildlife Explorer; World Atlas]