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South America’s flamboyance of flamingos

This article is part of our series on animals in South America.

Flamingos are frequently associated with Africa where the largest amount of these gangly pink birds flock. Yet despite the numbers, Africa is home to only two of the six types of flamingos in the world. The other four live in the Americas, and three of these species are found only in South America.

Regardless of geographic location, all flamingos have a few things in common. The most obvious being the pink feathers: the color is caused by carotenoid pigments found in the birds’ diet of plankton, algae, shrimp, and crustaceans. When they’re born, flamingos are actually white or grey. The second prominent physical feature of a flamingo is its long stick-like legs. Flamingos are wading birds and are typically seen standing in shallow water, looking for their next meal. The long legs give them the advantage of wading out further than most other birds. Their webbed feet allow them to “run” across the water as they gain speed to lift into the air.

There are also less evident similarities. Flamingos’ long S-shaped neck is for more than just show. When feeding, flamingo’s thrust their heads under water, turning it upside down to scoop up dinner. They suck water and food through their bill while a unique filtration system expels water and sediment. Though flamingos are born with a straight bill, it curves gradually with age.

All flamingos are monogamous. Mating pairs produce one egg each year and they raise the chick together. For the first couple weeks of a flamingo’s life, it feeds off of crop milk, a nutritious secretion produced in the upper digestion track. Both males and females produce this milky substance, which resembles cottage cheese. Pigeons, doves, and some types of penguins also feed their young with crop milk. After the first two weeks, the chicks leave the protection of their parents and join other young flamingos in a large group.

American Flamingo

Photo - Stray_dog_photos

The American flamingo is the only flamingo species found naturally in North America. It’s predominantly found in the Caribbean as well as in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and occasionally along the southern coasts of Texas and Florida. In South America, the America Flamingo lives along the northern coasts of Colombia and Venezuela as well as in the Galapagos Islands. The American flamingo can grow to nearly 60 inches and males can weigh over 6 pounds, making them the largest flamingo species in the Americas.

Chilean Flamingo

Photo - nwtransplant

As its name suggests, the Chilean flamingo lives in Chile, though they are also found in parts of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and southeast Brazil. Chilean flamingos are easily distinguished by their light grey legs with pink joints. More than half of their bill is black and their feather coloring is light pink.

James’s Flamingo

Photo - @seth

The James’s flamingo is the smallest of South America’s flamingos, standing only three feet high. They’re identified by both their size and their small bills, which have bright yellow coloring and black tips. James’s Flamingos tend to be pale pink with darker pink feathers on their necks and back. A few black tail feathers are usually visible. They also have red patches surrounding their eyes. James’s flamingos live in the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile with the largest colony located at Laguna Colorado, a shallow salt lake in Bolivia often visited in conjunction with Salar de Uyuni.

Andean Flamingo

Photo - H. Silenus

The Andean flamingo is a vulnerable species found in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. They are the only flamingos with yellow legs and are most closely related to the James’s flamingo, which shares the same habitat. They are migratory birds, traveling up to 700 miles a day.

Thanks to  Szeke for the title image of this blog.

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