Why are Flamingos Pink?

2,991 Views Updated: 17 Aug 2017
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Why are Flamingos Pink?

Flamingos are long-legged water birds covered with beautiful and lustrous pink feathers. With a name derived from a Spanish or Portuguese word meaning “flame-colored,” the birds have a vibrant appearance.

The birds are born as dull gray and gradually turn into pink. What makes the flamingos turn into a pink or orange color?

Flamingos are pink or orange or white because of what they eat. They mostly feed on algae and crustaceans which contain pigments called carotenoids. These pigments are usually found in the brine shrimp and blue-green algae that the birds eat.

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After the consumption, these carotenoids are broken down by the enzymes produced in the liver into the pink and orange pigment molecules. These pigments are absorbed by fats deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the flamingos.

Flamingos that are mostly dependent on algae are more deeply colored than the flamingos who feed on small animals rather than algae. Most of these deep pink or orange colored flamingos are found in the Caribbean region whereas the pale pink flamingos can be seen in Lake Nakuru in Kenya.

The flamingos which are held captive are purposely fed on prawns which are rich in pigmented crustacean and additives such as beta-carotene or canthaxanthin. This is done to retain their deep pink color which otherwise would fade into pale pink or even white. The younger ones have gray plumage which changes color in accordance to their diet.

Other than food there could be a few more reasons which lead to a color change in Flamingos.

#1. Habitat

Flamingos are water birds and usually find their habitat near to lakes or lagoons. They are mostly seen in West Indies, Yucatán, in the northern part of South America and along the Galapagos Islands. Some of them can also be found in the Middle East and India. Due to their close proximity to water, their bodies tend to be saline or alkaline. Most of them are non-migratory, but they change habits in times of need.

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#2. Diet

Flamingos are omnivores as they feed on both vegetation and meat. They eat larva, small insects, blue-green and red algae, mollusks, crustaceans and small fish. They are pink because the algae that they feed on are overloaded with beta carotene which is an organic chemical and contains a reddish-orange pigment. The mollusks and crustaceans that make up for popular snack meals for flamingos also contain similar pigment-packing carotenoids. Beta carotene is also found in plants, especially in tomatoes, spinach, pumpkins, sweet potato, and carrots.

If the flamingos reduce the intake or completely stop eating food rich in carotenoids, their new feathers would grow with a much paler shade, and the reddish feathers would eventually shed away.

The beak plays an important role in what the flamingos eat. Lesser, James' and Andean flamingos fall under the ‘deep-keeled bill’ category who mostly eat algae. Chilean and American flamingos have shallow-keeled bills, and hence let them feed on insects, invertebrates and small fish.

#3. Habits

Flamingos stay in groups which are referred to as colonies or flocks. They work together to protect each other and to take care of their young ones. Flamingos are believed to be monogamous i.e. they tend to stay with the same mate. They generally mate at the same and all the chicks hatch at the same time. Baby flamingos are born gray or white which eventually turn into pink.

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(Image Courtesy: Flamingo Facts)

Just like flamingos, humans consume food rich in carotenoids too, to acquire a sunless tan. Unfortunately, the color is a deep orange which is far from the natural tan color.

Did you find this fact about flamingos pink color interesting? Let us know in the comment section below.

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