Flamingos have enjoyed a long history even before man came to inhabit the earth. The fossil record indicates that flamingos similar to the ones we know today first roamed the earth about 30 million years ago. It’s common knowledge that flamingos get their pink coloring from eating shrimp and other crustaceans that contain high levels of carotenes. What you may not realize is that the carotenes actually come from algae. Flamingos eat algae directly and they also eat it second-hand since the crustaceans, fish and other invertebrates that they eat often subsist on algae. In fact, the smaller species of flamingos are primarily vegetarian. If a flamingo’s feathers are white or very pale it is probably a sign of undernourishment or illness.
Flamingo parents enjoy an equal partnership when it comes to child-rearing. Both mother and father take part in building a nest, incubating their egg and nursing their chick once it has hatched. Flamingos only lay and care for one egg at a time. Unlike most birds, which regurgitate food in order to feed their offspring, both male and female flamingos actually secrete a milk-like substance that provides their young with proper nourishment until their beaks have fully developed and they can begin to hunt for their own food. Baby flamingos typically begin to the leave nest after about five days to socialize and form groups which are tended by “babysitters” while the parents are out looking for food. The young chicks return to the nest, however, to get fed by their parents, not unlike a typical human teenager. Though the flamingo’s approach to parenthood may seem utterly genius, a flamingo’s eye is actually larger than its brain.
With all the sharing of housework that goes on, how can you tell a male flamingo apart from a female flamingo? You can’t — at least not based on any external features. Male flamingos do tend to be slightly larger than females though. Have you ever noticed the way it looks like a flamingo’s knees bend backwards? In reality flamingos’ knees work the same way humans’ do. Flamingos’ legs are so long that what appear to be their knees are actually their ankles which bend the same way human ankles do.
While the American flamingo is extinct in the wild, other species of flamingos are not yet endangered. Their habitats are extremely vulnerable to human influence including habitat destruction and pollution. In Africa especially, flamingos are dying rapidly, although the exact cause is not yet known. Flamingos tend to thrive in areas with sparse vegetation that don’t support much other wildlife. Although we typically think of flamingos living in warm, tropical places near the ocean, such as Florida and the Caribbean, flamingos can and do thrive in other places. For instance, two species of flamingos live in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains where there is little oxygen and often frigid temperatures. What comforts this environment lacks, it makes up for with salt water wetlands that are rife with the organisms that flamingos love to eat. As a result of where they live, flamingos have few natural predators. Modern flamingos’ ancestors weren’t quite as lucky, however. Ancient Romans considered flamingo tongue to be a delicacy.