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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 Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.
Arengo & Baldassarre (2002)
del Hoyo et al. (1992)
Ehrlich, et al. (1988)
Zweers et al. (1995)
SDZWA Library Links
Fact Sheet Index
Fact sheet index, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library
Home page, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library
Email the librarians at firstname.lastname@example.org