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- Filter feeders
- Small crustaceans (such as amphipods)
- Insects (such as midges and brine flies)
- Polychaete worms
- Fish (rarely)
- Widgeongrass seeds, muskgrass tubercles, and algae
- One flamingo needs ~32,000 brine-fly chrysalids or 50,000 larvae per day.
- Sometimes swallow mud to obtain nutrients and microorganisms, such as bacteria, and protozoa.
- Swallowing rough granuals of sand or stone makes the gizzard more effective in grinding up shelled organisms like snails.
- Young are fed "crop milk", which is produced by glands lining the upper digestive tract, rather than in the crop. The milk contains a high level of fat and nutrition.
- Head held upside down in shallow water (beak parallel to waterline), sweeping side to side.
- Tongue pumps water in and out of beak like a piston (5-6 times/second). Backward curving spines on tongue help guide food to the throat. For larger food particles, the beak is used as the pumping mechanism.
- Food particles are strained out of the water through the lamellae.
- Top bill not fixed to the skull, but moves up and down during the filtering process. Mammals and other birds have a fixed upper jaw.
- Also feed by picking up larger prey in their beak and swallowing (uncommon).
Six feeding behaviors (described by Rooth (1965))
- Skimming: moving beak back and forth in the top layer of water; mostly used for plankton
- Grubbing: up-ending, like a dabbling duck; used to feed along the bottom of meter-deep water. Long legs and neck permits feeding in areas that are deeper than those used by other waders.
- Walking and seizing with beak, as with use of forceps
- Stamping -"marking time": standing in one place, lifting feet up and down; in muddy bottoms; flushes out prey
- Stamping in a circle: around the bill, which is at the center; a small mound is formed, surrounded by shallow moat; in shallow water.
- Running: along the bank, stabbing at prey with forceps-like motion; similar to feeding activity of small herons.
- Walking, the beak tip leaving a trail: very shallow water; used for scooping mud and filtering out microorganisms.
- Often do not have access to fresh water
- Will drink rainwater when available
- Have a salt excreting organ above the eye similar to that seen in other sea dwelling vertebrates (gulls, turtles, etc.).
Flamingo Chick Eating
A 2-day-old American Flamingo chick curls up next to its mother for warmth at the San Diego Zoo.
After hatching, the chicks stay close to a parent, sitting with the mother or father for the first 5 to 7 days on a nest mound created for the chick.
Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.
Arengo & Baldassarre (2002)
del Hoyo et al. (1992)
Ehrlich, et al. (1988)
Zweers et al. (1995)