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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
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Introduction

This species account is dedicated in honor of Leslie H. Brown, Alan R. Johnson, and Adelheid Studer-Thiersch, whose studies contributed to the knowledge of the Greater Flamingo.

Flamingos have long attracted people's attention. They not only arouse curiosity and admiration for their appearance and coloration, but also for multiple features of their life history.

The Greater Flamingo's range spans Africa, western Asia, and southern Europe, where it is usually found in shallow, saline, alkaline wetlands, such as salt lakes, coastal lagoons, intertidal mudflats, and saltworks during the breeding season. This species has a great dispersal capacity outside of the breeding season, but it is highly philopatric. There is also variation in the migratory status of different populations.

Greater Flamingo generally feeds in shallow water. It is a specialized filterer that uses a variety of different feeding methods. The diet is varied and consists of small invertebrates, microalgae, and plant seeds. The species is also considered an ecosystem engineer, which through its foraging activity can modify aquatic habitats, at least over short-term periods.

Courtship activities begin several months before breeding. Flamingos gather in groups of 10–12 to several hundred birds, usually in equal proportions of males and females. The display repertoire consists of a series of postures and movements. During group displays, males and females perform displays such that individual differences in plumage coloration are more easily assessed, which may facilitate mate choice. The complexity of sexual displays increases the likelihood of successfully attracting a mate. The plumage is also more colorful during the courtship season, but fades in other times of the year. During the displaying period, flamingos were observed more often than in other seasons rubbing their cheeks on their uropygial glands and transferring carotenoid pigments, mainly canthaxanthin, from these glands to the feathers on the neck, breast, and anterior back feathers. The feathers became more colorful when the quantity of pigments applied over them was greater, providing evidence of cosmetic coloration. The use of these pigmented secretions may function as a signal amplifier by increasing the perceptibility of plumage color, and hence of individual quality.

Greater Flamingo is seasonally monogamous. Mate-switching between consecutive breeding seasons is very high and has also been observed within breeding seasons after nest failure during incubation. For successful breeding to occur, there must be adequate water levels in the breeding wetlands, which does not occur every year in seasonal wetlands; too much rainfall can cause nest flooding, and too little can dry out the wetland, causing mass death of the chicks. It nests on islets within wetlands to avoid access by terrestrial predators. There is only one brood, but if it fails during incubation, there may be multiple nesting attempts. It usually breeds on muddy substrates, where mud is scraped to construct a mound nest elevated above ground level to prevent flooding. However, the species has also been recorded breeding on sandy or rocky substrates. Females lay a single egg, and incubation is carried out by both sexes and lasts 27–36 days. The chicks are precocial and semi-nidifugous, and are fed by parents on regurgitated liquid secretions from the upper digestive tract glands. Chicks leave the nest at 7–10 days, and at 10–12 days they aggregate in crèches. Fledging occurs at an age of 71–98 days, and juveniles leave the breeding area when they are 80–139 days old. There is great variation between years in breeding success. It is a very long-lived species that reaches at least 40 years of age, and adult survival is high.

Greater Flamingo is very sensitive to disturbance by predators, including man, and may abandon their breeding colonies, which causes reproductive failure. Like other wetland-dwelling species, it also suffers from habitat degradation or loss, hunting, trapping, collisions with structures, and lead poisoning. The overall population has been estimated at 690,000–910,000 individuals. However, more accurate censuses are needed.

Distribution of the Greater Flamingo - Range Map
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  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Greater Flamingo

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