Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus Scientific name definitions

Alfredo Salvador, Miguel Á. Rendón, Juan A. Amat, and Manuel Rendón-Martos
Version: 2.0 — Published August 12, 2022



Greater Flamingo breeds in shallow wetlands that are either saline or alkaline, such as salt lakes, coastal lagoons, intertidal mudflats, and saltworks. While wintering, it can be found in the same habitat types, but also in coastal areas, estuaries, deltas, marshes, rice fields, aquaculture ponds, and reservoirs.

Habitat in Breeding Range

Greater Flamingo generally breeds in shallow (< 1 m deep), open wetlands that have islets for nesting. The water is usually saline or alkaline, and freshwater wetlands are rarely used for breeding. The vegetation is usually very sparse, and is typically halophilic. It uses natural wetlands for nesting, including inland and coastal sites such as salt lakes, salt pans, coastal lagoons, deltas, intertidal mudflats, coastal islets, and river mouths, as well as man-made habitats, such as saltworks, sewage treatment plants, and inland reservoirs (112, 4, 113, 114, 115, 75, 10, 116).

It usually breeds on muddy substrates, where mud is scraped to construct a mound nest elevated above ground level to prevent flooding (see Nest). However, the species has also been recorded breeding on sandy substrates, such as in Kazakhstan, and even on rocky substrates, where no nests are constructed, such as in the Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania), Lake Urmia (Iran), and Lake Elmenteita (Kenya) (68, 10).

The wetland size and the elevational distribution range is very wide. Mean size of breeding wetlands is 168,803 ha ± 262,290 SD, with a range 231–1,000,000 ha (n = 24), and mean elevation above sea level is 504.8 m ± 742.0 SD, with a range 0–3,200 m (n = 36) (75, 81, 10).

The wetlands where Greater Flamingo breeds experience wide inter-annual variation in water regimes, which contributes to the great variations in the size of the breeding colonies (it can also result in no breeding at all; see Demography and Populations) (117, 115, 118, 119). During the breeding period (May–June), in the Camargue (France), it tends to visit rice fields with a large surface area of paddies, near to natural marshes and far from wooded and urbanized areas (120).

For information on feeding microhabitats during the breeding season (see Feeding: Microhabitats for Foraging).

Molting Habitat

For Greater Flamingo, molt is highly variable (see Molts), and depending on wetland conditions, it may be either sequential or simultaneous, as in Europe (11). The simultaneous molting of all flight feathers results in a period of about four weeks when it is unable to fly, consequently raising its exposure and vulnerability to predators. Molting areas must therefore provide both protection and food to flightless adults. Wetlands occupied when birds are molting are characterized by their large size and depth, which makes access by terrestrial predators difficult; in addition, food is readily available. Greater Flamingo has been observed molting in some large wetlands in Asia such as Lake Urmia (Iran; 121, 30) and Chelkar-Tengiz Lake (Kazakhstan; 28). In Africa, several hundred molting adults have been observed at the wetland complex of Oum El Bouaghi in Algeria (75). Molting adults also use the Camargue (10), and in very wet years, flightless birds use the Fuente de Piedra Lake (Spain) during the summer (AMS, MAR, JAA, MR-M, personal observation).

Habitat in Nonbreeding Range

The habitats most frequently used during the winter are coastal wetlands, which include coastal lagoons and marshes. It has been recorded in coastal lagoons in Spain (106, 72, 93, 69, 98 , 94, 71), and uses coastal marshes elsewhere ( 79, 95, 122, 123, 124, 125, 84, 126). In addition to lagoons and coastal marshes, it will also use estuaries and deltas (106, 84, 69, 127, 71) and include intertidal mudflats along the coast (128, 69, 129, 130, 126).

Inland marshes (79, 84) and inland lakes are also used during the nonbreeding season (79, 95, 106, 84, 93, 94, 71). In the Rift Valley lakes of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, Greater Flamingo occurs year-round (124, 131). It was observed at Antsamaka Lake, a saline wetland in western Madagascar (132). Other inland lakes utilized during the nonbreeding season included an unnamed small lake in South Africa (123) and Lake Bakhtegan, Iran (125). Salt flats located in arid or desert areas are another type of habitat used in during the nonbreeding season (106, 72, 125, 93).

In additional to natural habitats, Greater Flamingo also uses man-made habitats during the nonbreeding season. It has been observed in saltworks in India (116) and Spain (98), in rice paddies in France and Uganda (120, 133, 134), and in harvested rice fields in recent years in Spain (135). Also in Spain, it has been observed in winter in aquaculture ponds (135, 98). It has been observed in reservoirs in Morocco (106) and in India (136).

There are few studies on habitat selection. Wintering birds in semi-arid and desert wetlands of Algeria (n = 35) were more abundant in those wetlands that had a larger area, a shallower depth, and more saline water content (137). In Abijata-Shalla Lakes National Park (Ethiopia), it selected offshore areas of the lakes (131). In the Gulf of Gabès (Tunisia), the abundance of Greater Flamingo increased in areas with large mudflats intersected by tidal channels, covered by sea-grass, and sediments rich in organic materials (138). In Venice Lagoon (Italy), wintering birds selected open landscapes, silty water areas 10 to 60 cm deep, areas with a low occurrence of salt marshes in a radius of 500 m, and a cover of seagrasses <4% (139).

There seems to be age-related segregation in wetland use between juveniles and adults, suggesting that juveniles avoid sharing habitat with adults, with the result of juveniles being displaced to low-quality wetlands, as judged by their lower abdominal profiles (20).

Recommended Citation

Salvador, A., M. Á. Rendón, J. A. Amat, and M. Rendón-Martos (2022). Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.grefla3.02