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.
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
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]