The word “flamingo” comes from the Spanish and Latin word “flamenco” which means fire, and refers to the bright color of the birds’ feathers. Flamingos are famous for their bright pink feathers, stilt-like legs, and S-shaped neck. They’re also known for “running” on water, thanks to their webbed feet, to gain speed before lifting up into the sky.
Flamingos come from an ancient bird lineage, with fossils similar to modern flamingos dating from 30 million years ago, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Flamingos are social birds and live in groups that can vary in size. They flock together on the ground and when flying. When flying in a flock, the top speed of a flamingo can be as high as 35 miles per hour. A flock of flamingos is called a stand or a flamboyance.
Flamingos are monogamous birds that lay one egg each year. If that egg is lost or damaged, they do not typically lay a replacement. Both parents care for the newborn flamingo. The young leave the nest after about five days to join other young flamingos in small groups, returning to the parents for food. The parents identify their chick by its voice. Chicks join crèches soon after hatching which can number more than 100,000 birds. The crèches are marshaled by adult birds which lead youngsters by foot to fresh water to drink, a journey that can be longer than 20 miles. Flamingos have a wild lifespan of 20-30 years, but in captivity have been recorded as living up to 50 years or longer. The Andean flamingo is the most threatened of all flamingo species. Estimates show there to be only 30,000 of the birds left in the wild. The greatest threats to flamingos include predators, habitat loss and poaching for decorative feathers as well as humans hunting flamingos to gather eggs as food or to harvest their tongues as meat.
You’ll find flamingos throughout the world’s warmer regions, near shallow lakes and lagoons. Lesser flamingos attract tourists to the national parks of Kenya and Ethiopia as well as Tanzania. In 2001, the Tanzanian government listed Lake Natron as a Ramsar Site under the international Ramsar wetlands treaty. Lake Natron has also been designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.