This relatively large bird species is tall (47-57 inches) and slender with deep pink or even red/orange plumage. Secondary and primary wing feathers are black, and the rump, head, and neck of the species typically consists of the darkest shade of pink or red/orange. Their legs and neck are longer – in relation to body size – than any other bird species. Like most flamingo species, females tend to be about 20% smaller than the males.
Diet: Flamingos feed mostly on invertebrates such as brine flies, shrimps, and mollusks. They get these food items by quickly dabbling their feet in the muddy bottoms of rivers and lakes, especially when wading in shallow water. Sometimes they swim to get their food, and can be seen “upending” (tail feathers in the air, head underwater) like ducks. Food is strained from the water through the inside of the beak, across a system comprised of keratinous plates and tiny hairs called “cilia.”
In the Wild : These social birds live in group sizes ranging from pairs to tens of thousands of individuals. During flight, their large flocks cycle through a variety of aerodynamic configurations to help take advantage of the wind. Forming these large group sizes not only serves as a defense against predation but can help encourage mating behavior. During mating season, nests are built into mud mounds from 1-2 feet in height by both the male and female.
Conservation issues/actions: Currently, populations of Chilean flamingo are declining. Flamingo species are reliant on adequate water levels to initiate mating season behaviors. Alterations in rainfall patterns due to climate change and the use of water for lithium mining decreases the water in the salars (salt flats) where these flamingos live. Additionally, nest site disturbance and illegal taking of eggs decrease reproduction success. Your efforts in taking a stand against illegal wildlife trade, and incorporating behaviors and life-style choices to reduce your carbon footprint helps mitigate any population disturbance for flamingo species across South America. Since lithium is the main component of most rechargeable batteries, you can help flamingos by buying lithium-containing electronic devices only when necessary, not just when there’s a new version out. You can also support companies who recycle lithium, which is possible but not widely done due to its current expense and inefficiency. Finally, you can support companies who try to harvest lithium sustainably, without harming flamingo habitat.
At the Zoo:
By supporting the Reid Park Zoo, you support conservation for wild flamingos through breeding and conservation programs, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan and Andean Highlands Flamingo SAFE program, which work together with other accredited zoos all over the country to ensure healthy Chilean flamingo populations within zoos and in their native habitat.