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


Systematics History

Included in the genus Phoenicopterus Linnaeus 1758 (39), Greater Flamingo was described as Phoenicopterus roseus Pallas 1811 (40). Other names for the species include Phoenicopterus antiquorum Temminck 1820 (41), which is now considered a junior synonym. It was later considered a subspecies of American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber Linnaeus 1758 (39); this treatment was reversed and Phoenicopterus roseus was again recognized as a distinct species based on differences in its coloration, displays, and vocalizations (42, 43, 44, 45).

Geographic Variation

A phylogeographic study of Greater Flamingo using both mitochondrial DNA and microsatellite markers from across eight Mediterranean breeding colonies (from Spain to Algeria and Türkiye) did not find population differentiation, suggesting extensive gene flow between the different colonies. The study also indicated that Greater Flamingo in the Mediterranean basin suffered a reduction in the effective population size followed by expansion, which was estimated to have started ca. 693,000 years ago (90% confidence interval: 526,316–1,131,579 years ago; 46). In another study of the four major colonies in Mediterranean (Spain, Algeria, France, Türkiye, n = 116 individuals), there was also no evidence of population structure based on variation in the major histocompatibility complex Class IIB, despite extremely high levels of allelic diversity (47). However, samples from other parts of the distribution area were not examined.

There are no biometric or coloration studies and their possible variation among populations of Greater Flamingo.


Monotypic, no subspecies have been described.

Related Species

Morphological (48) and genetic (49, 50, 51, 52) studies have revealed the existence of two clades within extant flamingos. One group includes American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber), Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), and Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis), which have a compact bill adapted to filter larger food items than the other species. The other group, characterized by having a bulbous bill to filter smaller food items, is formed by Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor), Andean Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus), and James's Flamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi). Within the first group, Greater Flamingo appears to be sister to American Flamingo, with these two species in turn sister to Chilean Flamingo (50).

Based on a combined dataset that included both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, the extant species of Phoenicopterus possibly diverged about 2.29 million years ago (95% confidence interval: 1.07–4.06 million years ago). The divergence between American Flamingo and Greater Flamingo possibly occurred about 1.01 million years ago (95% confidence interval: 0.34–1.98 million years ago) (50). Another study using a partial sequence of flamingos cytochrome b (611 bp) suggested that the divergence between American Flamingo and the Greater Flamingo occurred at a mean of 4.4 million years ago (95% height posterior density: 2.4–6.6 million years ago), while the genus Phoenicopterus diverged from its common ancestor 12.95 million years ago (95% height posterior density: 9–18 million years ago) (52).


The genus name Phoenicopterus is derived from Greek, phoinix meaning crimson, and pteros meaning wing; the species name roseus is derived from Latin, meaning rosy (53).

Fossil History

Greater Flamingo fossils have been found at the Kom Ombo Gabal Silsila 3 site (Aswan, Egypt) from the Pleistocene–Cenozoic (54, 55), Florisbad (South Africa) from the Middle Pleistocene/Late Pleistocene–Cenozoic (56), and Gruta da Furninha (Portugal) from the Late Pleistocene–Cenozoic (57). Fossil eggs thought to be from Greater Flamingo were found in Tudela (Spain) from the Early Miocene (58).

Fossils attributed to Greater Flamingo have also been found in Marais de l’Ermitage (Reunion Island) from the Holocene (59), Sal Island (Cape Verde Islands) from the Holocene (60), Mare aux Songes swamp (Mauritius Island) from the Holocene (61, 62), in Madagascar southwest of Ampoza, also from the Holocene (63), and Kolhorn (Netherlands), from the Neolithic period (64).

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