Flamingos (Phoenicopteriformes) are an ancient group of birds that includes just five species. Flamingos are filter-feeding birds with specialized bills that enable them to extract tiny plants and animals such as brine shrimp from the waters they forage in. To feed, flamingos open their bill slightly and drag it through the water. Tiny plates called lamellae act as filters, much like baleen functions in whalebone whales. The flamingo’s lamellae trap food particles inside the bill and the flamingo soon make a meal of it.
The tiny food particles flamingos feed on includes crustaceans such as brine shrimp. Such organisms are rich in carotenoids, a class of proteins which is deposited in the flamingos’ feathers and gives them their characteristic crimson or pink color.
Flamingos are highly social birds and form large colonies consisting of several thousand birds. Flamingos synchronize their mating and egg laying to coincide with the dry season. When water levels drop, they build their nests in the exposed mud. Parents care for their offspring for a few weeks after hatching and then the young flamingos join a creche.
Flamingos inhabit tropical and subtropical regions in South America, the Caribbean, Africa, India and the Middle East. Their preferred habitat includes estuarine lagoons, mangrove swamps, tidal flats and large alkaline or saline lakes.