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Flamingo Facts
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FlamingoES feeding

Flamingoes have specialized beaks.

Flamingoes are the some of the only creatures designed to survive in the caustic environment of a volcanic lake. Equipped with a filter-feeding system unlike any other bird on earth, flamingoes' beaks have evolved to skim tiny algae from the water's surface. By swinging their upside-down heads from side to side or swishing water with their fat tongues, flamingoes siphon the lake water through their filters to trap algae. They can filter as many as 20 beakfuls of algae-rich water in a single second.

This unique feeding system gives flamingoes a certain security: while they must watch out for predators like jackals or eagles, they compete with no other animals for food.

Flamingoes have no firm mating season. As you see in FIRE BIRD, the parents build a mud-cone nest that holds one egg, which males and females take turn incubating. When the chicks hatch, their parents must take care to keep the infants from falling off the nest into the caustic lake. When they are old enough to venture from the nest, chicks join groups of thousands and explore their home lakes, waiting for their parents to bring them mouthfuls of water at mealtimes.

Flamingoes can suck in water quickly

Flamingoes have a behavior that is as hard to explain as it is fun to watch: they dance. Posturing and signaling with their wings, bowing and bending their necks, running back and forth as a group, and then suddenly taking flight to wheel around the edges of the lake -- a crowd of dancing flamingoes is one of the strangest, most breathtaking sights in the natural world. Is it a mating ritual? Are the birds burning up excess energy? Or do they do it simply for fun? No one is really sure.

Flaming Feathers

The flamingo, living on hot volcanic lakes, recalls the ancient Phoenix myth. Found in many cultures, this story describes an immortal bird who was consumed by flames, then rose from the ashes. The word "flamingo" is also associated with fire: it derives from "flamenco," from Spanish through Latin, a word that has its root in "flaming." But where do flamingoes come by the blazing color for which they are named?

Spirulina, a blue-green algae abundant in the waters of Lake Natron, makes up lesser flamingoes' entire diet. Although called blue-green, this particular algae provides the red pigment for flamingoes' feathers. Lesser flamingoes, who survive solely on Spirulina, have a more intense pink color than greater flamingoes, who get their lighter color second-hand from their prey, creatures who have themselves digested the organism.

Spirulina algae

Spirulina, the algae these flamingoes live on.

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