Flamingos are wading birds with different hues and unique food habits. The change of their color of feathers is based on the food they eat. So, what kinds of foods do flamingos eat?
What do flamingos eat?
Flamingos eat small crustaceans such as mollusks and shrimps, red algae, blue-green algae, insect larvae, small insects, diatoms, and small fishes. The birds are omnivores as they prefer eating both meat and vegetation.
These birds live in and around water sources such as lakes, marshes, and lagoons. Therefore, the largest part of their diet consists of aquatic foliage and organisms.
A flamingo eats up to 270 grams of food and drinks up to 4 gallons of fresh water each day.
These wading birds are filter feeders. They take a beakful of mud and water and then filter the food out of it with the help of structures called lamellae. The excess water and mud are thrown out.
Flamingo’s diet depends immensely on its habitat as it adapts its diet according to the food sources available in its region. The other thing which decides a flamingo’s food is the type of its beak.
The flamingo with the deep-keeled bill, such as James’, Lesser and Andean flamingos, mostly eat algae and diatoms in abundance.
Those with shallow-keeled bills, such as American, Chilean, and Greater Flamingos, feed on invertebrates, small fishes, and insects.
Flamingos that have deep-keeled bills collect their food by sweeping their heads sideways below the surface of the water.
The shallow-keeled ones collect their food from deeper in the mud. Both types of flamingos may use their webbed feet to stir up food from the lakes’ bottom.
Such slight differences in habits and diet help flamingos in sharing feeding areas without any competition among themselves.
What kind of shrimp do flamingos eat?
Flamingos generally eat brine shrimp the most. It is their main food source of carotenoids because these shrimps feast on several microscopic algae that have the ability to naturally produce carotenoids.
Brine shrimps are the most responsible for flamingos’ rosy pink hues.
Do flamingos eat krill?
Flamingos do not eat krill as these crustaceans are not inhabited by lakes and swamps but are found in all oceans around the world. The birds cannot reach up to them as krill live deep in the water.
What do baby flamingos eat?
Baby flamingos feed on bright red ‘crop milk’ produced by either of their parents for the first few weeks of their life. Their diet depends completely on their parents until they become capable of feeding themselves.
The crop milk is produced by parents in their upper digestive tract and then regurgitated to their young ones.
Both parents share the responsibility of feeding their young. Rich in proteins and fats, the milk provides complete nutrition to young flamingos.
The bright red color of the milk is due to the presence of the pigment called canthaxanthin.
When baby flamingos intake the milk, the pigment gets piled up in their liver. It deposits in their feathers when they become adults.
After a few weeks, the young flamingos become strong enough to join other flamingos where they all learn the skills of catching their food.
What do flamingos eat in the wild?
A wild flamingo mostly feeds on shrimps, planktons, crustaceans, snails, and algae available in different water sources. Different flamingo species living in the wild derive their food from the sources available to them.
The food eaten by different species of flamingos in the wild are:
- The greater flamingo feed on larvae, plankton mollusks, crabs, and small fishes. They are found in warm aquatic regions on almost every continent.
- The lesser flamingos in the wild feed mostly on cyanobacteria named Limnospira fusiformis which is rich in lipids and carbohydrates. They also consume copepods, algae, plankton, and diatoms. These flamingos inhabit Africa.
- American flamingos eat shrimp, seeds, fly larvae, invertebrates, and algae. They are found in the West Indies, South America, and Galapagos Islands.
What do flamingos eat in zoos?
Flamingos in zoos eat a special pellet diet that provides the nutrients necessary for maintaining their vibrant colors. The zoo also fed carrots, dried shrimps and clams, and red peppers to flamingos.
Flamingos’ feed in zoos consists of a commercially prepared diet called ‘flamingo fare’ that is rich in carotenoids. The zoo even adds synthetic canthaxanthin in their feed as it benefits them a lot in successful breeding and nesting.
The lifespan of flamingos living in zoos is up to 50 years which is almost double the lifespan of wild flamingos. This is because the food served to them in zoos is full of nutrients, helping them in living a healthy long life.
What do flamingos eat to get their pink hue?
Flamingos eat food rich in carotenoids such as blue-green algae, small fishes, insects, and crustaceans such as shrimps and mollusks to get their pink hues.
The carotenoids present in their food consist of beta carotene which gives the flamingos their distinctive pink color. Beta carotene is an organic chemical containing a reddish-orange pigment.
The level of carotenoids in food differs in different habitats. Flamingos that eat high carotenoid food get a darker shade of pink such as American flamingos. Whereas, the birds that cannot get enough carotenoids in food, turn out to have a pale pink shade such as lesser flamingos living in central Kenya.
When a flamingo eats food containing carotenoids, the carotenoids get extracted by their liver. The liver then breaks it down and stores it in fat molecules.
The deposition of pigment-containing fat molecules in feathers gives them their pink hue.
The plumage of flamingos becomes pale or white when they feed their young the crop milk.
The maximum nutrients from flamingos’ food are transferred in the crop milk, making them lose their color. But they gain their color back eventually when feeding stops.
Do flamingos eat their own babies?
Flamingos do not eat their babies. These wading birds are extremely passionate parents. Both the parents take care of their young ones and protect them from predators.
Flamingos live together in groups and tend to mate at the same time. This way all the chicks hatch at the same period and can be protected together.
Each flamingo lays a single large egg each year. As flamingos can not lay a replacement, they cannot afford to lose their babies by feeding on them.
Flamingos eat a variety of food consisting of pigments and other necessary nutrients. Their unique food source and habitat decide their color.
These birds only eat with their head upside down which makes them even more special. As parents, they are protective, caring, and responsible for providing nutrition to their young ones.