Written by: Animal Care Professional, Micah Carnate
Summer is rolling into the blue skies overhead with the sun’s rays penetrating with its heat. Along with the needed warmth after this past chilly winter and spring, the afternoon thunderstorms creep in to provide cool showers for all to enjoy, especially our very own flamboyance of Caribbean Flamingos! The introduction of these rainy seasons help to signify the beginning of many journeys of love, starting a family, and creating new life for all the flamingos around the world.
The first chapter in a flamingo’s journey is to find love. At the start of the breeding season, flamingos prepare to become the best and most attractive dancers in their colony in order to catch an eye of a potential mate. To do this, flamingos will first go through a quick molting event in which they lose their old feathers and grow in new vibrant pink feathers that drape from their backs. Once they have their beautiful fancy feathers all in place, the flamingos are ready to show off their passion and romance in a ritual dance consisting of synchronized marching, head-flagging (turning their heads from side to side while stretching out their necks), loud short bursts of honking, and wing-flapping to show off all of their new colorful feathers. Through this flashy dance, a female flamingo will choose the best male in the colony and both will begin to form their lifelong bond together and embark on their next chapter – starting a family.
An essential step before producing any offspring, the flamingo parents must work together to build a mound. Contrasting to their bright pink feathers and fancy footwork in their courtship dance, they build their unexciting mounds (or nests) out of plain mud. Typically, when you see flamingo mounds, they look like little volcanoes standing about 1 to 2 feet high to protect their eggs from any flooding from the rains and any heat from the ground. The mounds will also dip in the middle like a shallow bowl so the egg does not roll out at any point when mom or dad are incubating it. After their mound is perfect to their standards, the female flamingo is ready to lay an egg!
The female flamingo will only lay one egg per year and both parents will be extremely devoted to the care of their chick for the next two months. Mom and dad flamingos will each take turns sitting on the egg for 28 to 32 days until their chick emerges. When the chick hatches, the chick will stay in the mound hiding under mom or dad for another 5 to 12 days and it is during this short time that the parents will be feeding it a milky substance called “crop milk.” Crop milk is type of milk produced in the flamingo’s upper digestive tract. It is highly possible that the parents may lose their pink color in their feathers during this time because most of the nutrition is given to the chick in the crop milk; however, once the chick is ready to fledge from the nest, both parents will be able to gain their bright pink colors back. While the family is on the mound, mom and dad become territorial and fend off any other flamingos from invading their space, providing their chick the ultimate protection.
At around the 12th day after hatching, the chick becomes a fledgling and begins to explore the immediate surroundings of their mound. Mom and dad will still be nearby to keep an eye on their chick as it learns to walk and swim. All the fledglings in the colony will then merge into a large grouping called a crèche, in which they get socialized into the flamingo community! At this point, mom and dad will continue to watch over the group and feed their chick when it calls for them. Flamingos are a great example of exhibiting strong family bonds because despite a crèche possibly having hundreds of fledglings, both mom and dad are able to locate their own offspring by their distinctive vocalizations. Juvenile flamingos will continue to grow up in the same colony with their parents. At ages 3 to 5 years old, they will become mature and eventually begin their own life journeys.
Fla-mingle with these additional facts:
- There are a total of six flamingo species around the world: Caribbean (or American), Andean, Chilean, James (or Puna), Lesser, and Greater.
- Flamingos are social birds and live in colonies called flamboyances. Some flamboyance populations can reach well into the thousands or even tens of thousands!
- The largest flamingo is the Greater Flamingo standing at 4 to 4.5 ft tall and weighing between 4.5lbs to 9lbs. The smallest flamingo is the Lesser Flamingo standing at 2.5 to 3 ft tall and weighing between 3lbs to 4.5lbs.
- Flamingos get their pink colors from a pigment called carotenoids found in some of their favorite foods such as small crustaceans and algae.
- Although no flamingo species are considered endangered, they still have declining numbers due to habitat loss from urban development.
A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit our flamingo flock in the Florida realm of the Zoo! You can learn more about memberships here.