Like most of the flamingoes the Chilean flamingo is a tall bird with light pink feathers. They have long legs which are grey with pink at the joints. Between the three toes on the foot are webbing to help with wading through the water.
In the centre of the knee is a backward bend which many think to be the knee but is in fact the ankle. The knee is located up higher within the feathers.
Across their body the feathers are mostly white with a pink tinge. The primary and secondary feathers are black with a crimson edge.
Their head rests atop the long neck. Attached to this is a banana shaped bill. Most is white except the terminal half which is black. The iris of their eye is colored yellow.
Lesser flamingoes may reach a height of up to 130cm (4.3ft) tall. Their wingspan is between 127 and 153cm (4.2-5ft) across. They may weigh between 1.9 and 3kg (4.2-6.6lbs). Females are typically smaller than the males.
Chilean flamingoes are omnivores. Their diet includes algae and aquatic invertebrates such as molluscs and crustaceans.
They spend several hours of their day filter feeding. This involves them holding their beak upside down in the water and filtering out the small bits of food.
Their diet is responsible for their color. It comes from the ‘carotenoid’ pigment in the foods which they eat.
Due to inhospitable areas they inhabit they often become the top of the food chain in their ecosystem.
South America is the native home of the Chilean flamingo. Here as their name suggests they can be found in Chile but also throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, The Falkland Islands and Uruguay.
They make their home in wetlands and coastal mudflats. Their breeding habitat requires islands which have mudflats surrounding them.
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Pairs of flamingoes are monogamous. The male and female breed among a group of other flamingoes with at least 15 to 18 birds required before a colony begins mating. Nesting is synchronized among members of the colony.
Mating takes place in the water. Chilean flamingoes appear to have greater breeding success if they have brighter colors.
A male and female will create a nest by scooping mud together. Stones may also be used in the construction.
In to this nest the female will deposit a white egg. The pair work together to incubate this over the next 26 to 31 days. At hatching the young are covered with grey down feathers.
Once the egg hatches both the male and female will work together to feed their chick crop milk.
Within 5 to 8 day of hatching the chick will be moved to a crèche with other chicks. Using an individual call the parents can find their chick.
It takes between 65 and 70 days for the chick to fledge. It is around this time that they gain the ability to fly.
A Chilean flamingo chick may take two to three years before its adult plumage develops. Sexual maturity is reached at this point but on average they are six before they breed for the first time.
Breeding is dependent on rainfall and the amount of food available meaning some years a colony may not breed.
Chilean flamingoes have the ability to stand on one leg for as many as four hours at one time. The most widely accepted theory for why they do this is that it conserves energy and body heat.
They are a social species which will form flocks of between ten and thousands of individuals.
While flying a group of Chilean flamingoes will make a v-shaped formation. They communicate with one another using a loud goose-like call.
A large portion of their day is spent preening which helps to keep their feathers waterproof and ready to fly.
Predators and Threats
There are few natural predators of the Chilean flamingo as they live in remote areas.
Humans pose a range of threats to the Chilean flamingo including through habitat loss and hunting. Their tongue was once seen as a delicacy in some cultures and was also believed to be a cure for tuberculosis. Their feathers are sought after for use.
Habitat loss is driven by mining and water being taken for irrigation projects.
Their eggs are collected in large numbers and in some areas this has lead to a collapse of colonies.
The word ‘flamingo’ comes from the Spanish and Latin words for ‘fire.’ This is a reference to their bright pink feathers.
A range of names may be used for a group of flamingoes. These include a stand, regiment, colony or flamboyance.
Flamingoes are an ancient bird with their first appearance in the fossil record being 10 million years ago.
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By Sanjay Acharya – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64372458
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