The greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus, lives in large colonies in brackish or saltwater lakes. Its colour is the result of colours in the shrimp that it captures using its filtering beak.
Sauropsida, Phoenicopteriformes, Phoenicopteridae
25 to 30 years
1.30 m; 1.65-m wingspan; 3.5 kg at the most
~ 28 days, 1 egg
brackish or saltwater lakes, lagoons
crustaceans, algae, cyanobacteria (spirulina)
from Africa to Asia, Camargue
LC Least Concern
Way of life
Of the six species of flamingo, the greater flamingo is the largest and the most widespread.
A gregarious animal, the greater flamingo lives in colonies of up to several thousand individuals. They keep in touch with each other using different types of calls. Couples are formed following a courtship ritual made up of head movements, spreading wings and bows. They then build conical mud nests close to each other. These nests are around 30 cm high and are built on salt lakes as their very high alkalinity keeps predators away. In the noisy crowd, each parent takes it in turns to brood, being fed by the “liberated” partner. The young are born covered with a greyish down. They leave the nest at around 10 days of age and gather in huge nurseries where the adults recognise their offspring by its calls and feed it with a “milk” that they regurgitate. They become independent at around one year of age.
Right from birth, the beak gradually begins to curl to enable the flamingo to scrape the marshy lake bottoms. The tongue serves as a piston to suck up water and mud and then, inside the beak, lamellae filter out the small invertebrates, molluscs and algae. This highly specialised diet explains the flamingo’s colour: its primary food source, a small shrimp, the Artemia salina, contains carotene, the pigment that is responsible for the colour of these birds.
Young flamingos are grey at birth and their plumage turns fully pink at the age of around three, when they adopt the adults’ diet.
The flamingo’s tongue was a delicacy for the Romans! Because its feathers are highly prized as decorations, flamingos have been subjected to excessive hunting... Today, they are victims of poisoning from heavy metals and pesticides which pollute the lakes where they feed and reproduce. This is compounded by the development of human activities and hydroelectric development.
Camargue is the main permanent breeding ground for flamingos in France. A significant number of these birds migrate to Africa during the winter. In order to study their movements and better understand their biology, the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle bands and makes a list of the young.
In 1962, a colony of flamingos nested in the very salty waters of Lake Magadi (Kenya). The high temperatures caused large concentrations of salts to evaporate, which then stuck like plaster cast to the bodies of some 800,000 chicks. Together, ornithologists and a number of associations saved half of them by transporting them to less salty wetlands, after cleaning them.