Flamingo, a wading bird. There are six species. The American (or greater) flamingo, a typical species, is the only one native to the United States. The American flamingo grows to six feet (1.8 m) in height. It is pinkish white with blackedged wings. It has long, thin legs and small feet with webbed toes. The neck is long and slender and is usually held in an S-shaped curve.

Flamingoes inhabit salt marshes, coastal lagoons, and mudflats in colonies of up to 2,000 individuals. Flamingoes feed on aquatic plants, shellfish, frogs, and algae. The large, down-curved bill is adapted for feeding when the head is lowered. The upper bill is used to scoop food up from the bottom of the lagoon; the bottom bill has serrated edges that allow mud and water taken with the food to drain out.

The flamingo builds a cone-shaped nest of mud 8 to 16 inches (20–40 cm) high with a depression on top. The female lays one bluish-white egg in the depression. The parents take turns incubating the egg. A flamingo sits on the nest with its legs folded under its body.

The flamingoThe flamingo builds a cone-shaped nest of mud with a depression on top.

The American flamingo ranges from the West Indies to South America and the Galápagos Islands. It occasionally breeds along the coastal United States from North Carolina to Texas. It was once common in southern Florida and the Bahamas, but the population was greatly reduced by plume hunters. The other species of flamingoes are found mainly in tropical areas of Europe, Asia, West Africa, and South America.

Why Is That Flamingo So Colorful?

The flamingo is a beautiful bird with stiltlike legs and a long, curved neck. In the wild, flamingos vary in color from bright red to pale pink.

To feed, a flamingo puts its head upside down beneath shallow water. Then it moves its head from side to side to catch and filter out food from the water with its bill.

One food flamingos like to eat is algae (AL jee). Some of the types of algae that flamingos feed on contain pigments called carotenoids (kuh ROT uh noydz). These carotenoids make the flamingo’s feathers their pink or red color.

When flamingos are kept in a zoo, the birds are often fed a special diet that contains these carotenoids. Without the special diet, the flamingo's feathers would fade to off-white. Feathers molted (shed) by a flamingo soon fade to off-white, as well.

Flamingoes belong to the family Phoenicopter-idae. The American flamingo is Phoenicopterus ruber.