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American Flamingo

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American Flamingo

American Flamingo

Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

The only flamingo species in North America, the American flamingo is occasionally considered a subspecies of the greater flamingo. Unmistakable in identification, this is one of the most unique birds in its Caribbean range.

Common Name:

American Flamingo, Caribbean Flamingo, Greater Flamingo, Fillymingo

Scientific Name:

Phoenicopterus ruber

Appearance:

  • Bill: Pale with black tip, strong downward "break" curve
  • Size: 35-50 inches long with 60-inch wingspan, long neck
  • Colors: Pink, white, black, yellow
  • Markings: Genders are similar with overall pink or pinkish-orange plumage with the strongest color on the tail, chest, neck and head while back and underparts may appear paler, even white. Primary and secondary feathers are black but are typically invisible except in flight. Eyes are yellow, and legs and feet are pale with darker pink joints. Species is monotypic.

Foods:

Algae, plankton, fish, crustaceans

Habitat and Migration:

These flamingos are common throughout the Caribbean, especially in the Bahamas and Cuba, as well as along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and in Central America. They can be found in large, open, shallow ponds, lakes, lagoons and mudflats, often with brackish or saline water. Vagrant sightings are regularly reported along the coasts adjacent to the Caribbean Sea, including in Texas and Florida, though some of those sightings may be birds escaped from captivity rather than wild American flamingos.

Vocalizations:

American flamingos do not have a song, but do use a variety of raspy honking calls that can be quite loud and boisterous in large flocks, including while in flight. The speed and tempo of the calls can change depending on the bird's agitation, and softer honks are common while feeding or during courtship.

Behavior:

These birds are relatively shy toward humans, but are gregarious and will gather in medium or large flocks. They feed while wading, holding their crooked bills upside down to filter small organisms and algae out of the water. They are strong but rare swimmers, and are far more frequently seen wading or standing rather than swimming.

Reproduction:

American flamingos are monogamous birds and colonial nesters, and it is not uncommon to have nests from different pairs only a few feet apart. Both parents will incubate the nest for 28-32 days, and after hatching, they feed the chick crop milk for 3-12 days until it joins a group of other recently hatched chicks for communal care. The young birds remain in that juvenile colony for approximately 75 days until their first flight. Only one egg is laid per mated pair of flamingos each year.

Attracting American Flamingos:

Despite the proliferation of pink plastic lawn flamingos, these are not backyard birds. It is essential to preserve the alkaline or brackish ponds they prefer to provide adequate feeding grounds, and they are vulnerable to predators, natural disasters and other factors that can decimate flocks.

Similar Birds:

  • Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaia ajaja)
  • Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber)
  • Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis)
  • Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

Photo – American Flamingo © Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble

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