Flamingos are statuesque, wading birds known for their pink feathers, elongated beaks, and propensity for standing on one leg. Of the six extant species of flamingos, four live in the Americas, and two reside in parts of Africa, Southern Asia, and Southern Europe.
Flamingos are strong fliers that fly with their long necks and legs extended as they flap their wings. Flamingos typically need a running start before lifting off from the ground. When landing, they must run a few steps to slow down.
These iconic birds reside in and around saltwater and freshwater environments in lakes, swamps, wetlands, lagoons, seas, and estuarine areas. Those that live in saline environments excrete salts from their nostrils.
Their pink feathers come from eating plankton species, such as blue-green algae and brine shrimp, that contain compounds that give their feathers this color. Flamingos with lighter pigmentation eat fewer foods that cause this pink pigmentation.
How Far Can Flamingos Fly?
Flamingos can cover long distances if they need to move from one body of water to another. Once in the air, they may fly hundreds of miles to find more water and food. Researchers have tracked flamingos that traveled up to 375 miles (600 kilometers) in one night.
Similar to the flight patterns of geese and swans, flamingos often fly in a V-shape or diagonal line to maximize the flight efficiency of the flock. This flight pattern allows them to cover greater distances without tiring.
Most of the long-distance flights made by flamingos occur at night, so most people do not observe them when they travel.
How High Can Flamingos Fly?
Researchers have tracked the flight of flamingos at varying altitudes as they travel over water and land. When flying over water, flamingos typically do not fly higher than 820 feet (250 meters) and often fly only 164 feet (50 meters) above the water’s surface.
When flamingos travel over land, people have used radar to track them at both 6,500 feet and more than 19,000 feet (2,000 meters and 6,000 meters). Flamingos likely fly higher when searching for a waterbody to land on because they can see farther.
How Fast Can Flamingos Fly?
Flamingos fly faster than their gawky, awkward appearance might suggest. Their slender, streamlined bodies and large wings make them excellent fliers.
These birds can reach flight speeds of 31 to 37 miles per hour (50 to 60 kilometers per hour) but may reach speeds of 37 to 43 miles per hour (60 to 70 kilometers per hour) during long-distance flights when the wind blows favorably.
Researchers have even clocked flamingos flying at peak speeds of 56 miles per hour (90 kilometers per hour). Their excellent flying skills are similar to the flying abilities of cranes, cormorants, and pelicans.
When Do Baby Flamingos Start to Fly?
Male and female flamingos begin breeding around six years after hatching. Mating pairs often mate for life, but not always. When nesting season begins, all females in the flock synchronize nest mound building. Females construct these mounds from mud, rocks, grasses, and feathers.
Females lay only one egg in their nest mound and incubate it for about one month before it hatches. Baby flamingos can leave the nest around a week after hatching to form creches with other babies. Parents continue caring for their chick for several weeks.
The flight feathers of flamingo chicks start growing at around eleven weeks after hatching. Once the chicks fully fledge, usually between ten and twelve weeks after hatching, depending on the species, they can fly.
Do Flamingos Migrate?
Flamingos migrate because of seasonal changes in rain and less because of seasonal temperature changes. Flamingos breed in the same regions each year and can somehow detect when the first rains arrive at their breeding grounds, signaling the time to return.
They stay on their breeding grounds until the seasonal rains end and winter arrives. Some flocks travel south to overwinter, while others travel north, east, or west into other, wetter regions.
Flamingos tend to favor the same flyways during migration unless human or climactic disturbances make them less desirable for stopovers. Many researchers believe that flamingos rely on learned maps to migrate and not on instinct.
Why Don’t Flamingos Fly at the Zoo?
Many zoos worldwide have flamingo exhibits where the birds do not fly away, despite their strong flying abilities. The flamingos at zoos have had their flight feathers clipped or a wing tendon removed in a way to prevent flight.
Clipping flight feathers is the most humane option, especially for older birds, but zookeepers must cut them annually when they regrow.
Removing a piece of the wings is a less humane but permanent solution, so many zookeepers only choose that option with newly hatched chicks.
Flamingos sometimes escape their zoos and become wild birds. Zoos don’t usually try to recapture these escaped birds because they don’t want to harm them during the recapture process. When people see them, they sometimes report them to the news.
Because flamingos are social birds, they usually only thrive around other flamingos, so zoos often maintain a small flock. Escaped flamingos don’t survive for long unless they find other flamingos.