Phoenicopterus roseus - The Greater Flamingo

The Greater Flamingo is a large, very slender, pale pink or white bird with long legs and a long neck. The wing coverts are bright salmon pink but are often hidden beneath the feathers on the back when the bird is feeding. In flight however, they are clearly visible and contrast with the black flight feathers of the wings.

The bill is deep and turned sharply downwards after about two thirds of its length. It is pink with a broad black tip (the Lesser Flamingo has a dark reddish-black bill). The eyes are yellow, and there is pink skin between the eyes and the bill. The legs are red.

Did you know? The name 'Flamingo' comes from the latin word for flame.

Greater Flamingos are are highly nomadic birds and their presence usually depends on suitable water conditions. Usually seen in large flocks, wading slowing through shallow water and sometimes seen swimming in deeper water. They have a very specialized feeding process.

Greater Flamingos spend most of the day standing in shallow water with their head down filtering the water through the sieve-like lamellae of their beaks. Their thick fleshy tongues acts as a plunger to suck the water and food into the mouth, and then forcing just the water back out. The nearly dry bolus of food is drawn into the back of the mouth to be swallowed at the same time the next mouthful of water is drawn in.


Weight: 2.1 to 4kgs.
Height: 91 to 127 cm.
Wingspan: 152 cm.


Greater Flamingos are found on large bodies of shallow water, such as lakes, dams, estuaries and salt pans. They prefer water which is slightly saline, hence their preference for inland lakes without much drainage.


Widely distributed from southern Europe to India and the east and south of the African continent.

In South Africa, you can see these elegant birds at Kamfers Dam near Kimberley, Rietvlei Nature Reserve (between Pretoria and Johannesburg), the West Coast National Park (an hour or so from Cape Town), and Schuinsdraai Nature Reserve near Tzaneen in Limpopo.


Algae, protozoa, aquatic plants, diatoms, worms, insect larvae, small molluscs and crustaceans.


These are highly gregarious birds and will not breed unless in large numbers. The flamingos have a unique communal display, consisting of flapping, posturing, preening and make quite a bit of noise. Most of the flamingo's day is spent filter feeding in shallow water. They usually migrate at night, flying with outstretched necks and legs.

Flamingos perform spectacular group courtship displays, involving synchronised wing-raising, ritualised preening, and 'head-flagging', raising the neck and beak and turning the head from side to side.


Greater Flamingos nest in large colonies on large water bodies, but require very specific conditions before they will attempt to breed. (Kamfers Dam near Kimberley is the only nesting site for lesser flamingos in the country and one of only six breeding areas for the birds in the world).

The Greater Flamingo lays a single egg which is incubated by both parents for 27 to 31 days. After about a week, the chick leaves the nest to join a 'creche' (creches are nurseries that are watched over by a few adults). They fledge after 65 to 90 days.


Incubation lasts for 27 to 31 days.

Life Expectancy

Up to 40 years in the wild.


Few natural predators but eggs are taken by other birds including marabou stork.


National Geographic;; The Animal Files.

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