American Flamingo

American flamingoThe American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) has a large range, residing on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of tropical and sub-tropical North and South America. They are native to several countries, including: Aruba; Bahamas; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Brazil; Colombia; Cuba; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Mexico; Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; Turks and Caicos Islands; United States; Venezuela. The species is commonly found in shallow salty lakes and lagoons, and their long legs are great for wading. Researchers have been unsure exactly why they stand on one leg while resting. The leading hypothesis is that standing on one leg may have several benefits, particularly thermoregulation. Their legs and feet are a chief source of heat loss, especially when standing in water. Flamingos are known for their bright coloration, but their feathers are gray as hatchlings. In their wetland and lake homes, they mostly consume algae, insect larvae, shrimp and mollusks. The blue-green and red algae flamingos eat, along with the shrimp and mollusks, contain lots of beta-carotene. The flamingo’s digestive system extracts the red-orange pigment from the beta-carotene, which is stored in fats that are accumulated in new feathers. Flamingos of different species, and even within the same species, vary in color and brightness due to their diets and the amount of beta-carotene present in their food in different regions of the globe.

Photo and haiku: Samantha Oester