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Greater flamingo

Scientific name: Phoenicopterus roseus

Country: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Aruba, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Botswana, Brazil, Burundi, Cape Verde, Colombia, Comoros, Cuba, Cyprus, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador Galapagos, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, French Guiana, Gambia, Gibraltar, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands Antilles, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Qatar, Sâo TomÅ and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Syria, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Virgin Islands, Western Sahara, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Continent: Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, South America

Diet: Crustaceans - crustacivore, plankton, algae

Food & feeding: Omnivore

Habitats: Freshwater, coast

Conservation status: Least concern

Relatives: Chilean flamingo, lesser flamingo

Description: There are six different species of flamingo. The greater flamingo has the widest distribution of them all. Flamingos are found in wetland habitats; on coastal lagoons, mud flats and inland at large shallow lakes which may be very saline (salty) or highly alkaline (caustic, high pH). Flamingos stand up to 150 cm high, on long legs. They weigh around 3 kg. The head is a peculiar shape - and when feeding, the bill is placed in the water upside down. Water is sucked in through the partly-opened bill. As it is squeezed out again by the tongue, a row of spines or lamellae along the edge of the bill filter out the food particles.

Lifestyle: Flamingos are filter feeders, living off algae and tiny animals such as shrimps, molluscs and insect larvae which live in the mud at the bottom of shallow pools. In some years, the pools that they feed in are teeming with life and there is plenty of food to feed chicks with. In other years the pools are nearly empty. As a result, flamingos do not breed every year, but when conditions are just right.

Family & friends: Flamingos are gregarious birds, living in groups called flocks or 'stands' numbering from a few individuals to tens of thousands. Whether feeding or nesting they remain closely packed together. Pairs are monogamous (they stay together for life).

Keeping in touch: They can be very noisy, having a deep goose-like 'honk'. At the beginning of the nesting season, flamingos perform mass courtship displays where hundreds move together in a coordinated walk.

Growing up: Flamingos build their nests from mud. One of the pair stands over the nest site and drags mud between its feet with its bill. The mud is then pressed into place with the bill and feet. The female lays a single egg which both the male and female incubate. After 28 days the egg hatches and the parents help by pulling away pieces of the egg shell. The chick is fed for at least the first three to four weeks entirely by the parents who secrete a creamy pink liquid called 'crop milk'. The chicks fledge after ten weeks, but remain in creches for a further month. The chick is born with a straight bill which starts to curve at about one month and can filter feed properly at two and a half months. Flamingos are fully grown at two years and can live for 30 years.

Flamingo feathers are tinged a wonderful rosy pink colour due to coloured materials called carotenoids in the tiny shrimps that they feed on. If they don't eat the shrimps, their feathers turn pale. In captivity, they are fed special food that contains these natural pigments to ensure that their feathers are coloured.

Conservation news: The Camargue, in southern France, is one of Europe's most important wetland sites. Flamingos visit in their thousands to breed every year, along with other bird species such as terns, avocets and purple herons. The area is a National Park, although less than a third is strictly protected. The rest is leased to farmers. Demand for agricultural land by ever-increasing human populations puts pressure on the vital wetlands which are depended upon by a huge variety of species. Drainage to form fields suitable for growing crops limits the areas available to breeding flocks as well as destroying the habitat for countless other species. The flocks in the Camargue are protected during the breeding season to minimise disturbance and aircraft are banned from flying over the breeding grounds.