There are thought to be around six species within the genus Phoenicopterus, only two of which are found outside of northern and southern America; P. roseus (the Greater Flamingo) and P. minor (the Lesser Flamingo). The Greater Flamingo is the least numerous of the two but is a lot larger and a very distinctive wading bird.
The body of Phoenicopterus roseus is pinkish white, with bright red wing coverts (a) and black flight feathers. Its long thin legs are entirely pink, and its thick down-turned bill is pink with a black tip. Juveniles have a grey – white plumage, with the pink colouration developing as they mature. A mature individual is 120 to 145 cm in height, and has a wingspan of 140 to 170 cm (1).
Colonies inhabit shallow saline or brackish (b) water bodies, such as estuaries and salt marshes (3), they have also been observed, at sewage works and inland dams (5). Breeding and nesting sites are usually on the fringes of these water bodies, such as mudflats or islets (6). Greater Flamingos rarely utilise purely freshwater locations, except for drinking (7).
The Greater Flamingo is found across Sub-Saharan and western Africa. It is also a seasonal visitor to the Mediterranean region including northern Greece and the Greek Aegean island of Samos. It is also found in the Middle-East and Southern Asia (3).
Populations found in the north migrate to warmer regions in winter. This migration is dictated by water levels, and prey species composition rather than a direct effect of the cold (3).
They are highly social birds, breeding and nesting in large colonies of up to 20,000 pairs (3). In these large flocks flamingos perform synchronised breeding displays, extending their bright flight wings, preening and ‘head-flagging’ which involves the flamingo stretching its head and bill up high and then turning the head from side to side (4).
The Greater Flamingo has a loud, trumpeting ‘ka-haunk’ call, mixed with a deep chatter when a large group of individuals are together (2).
Feeding takes place with their head submerged underwater. Water is pumped through the mouth by the tongue, filtering out small crustaceans (e) , molluscs (f), worms, in addition to algae and plant matter. Pigments contained within the crustaceans (e) and algae give the birds their pink colour (9). Mud is also ingested in order to extract bacteria (7).
The Greater Flamingo is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN (g) (3), due to the vulnerability of its limited number of breeding sites to human disturbance, exploitation and climate change (11). Even small cases of disturbance have been shown to impact breeding success (12). Within Europe, although the majority of the populations are in Africa, they are protected under a variety of conventions including Annex II of the Bern Convention (h) and Annex I of the EU Birds Directive (i). Finally it is globally listed under Appendix II of CITES (j) which deals with the control and trade of wild animals.
Description written by Amy Trayler (2011). Edited by Ross Atkinson (2013)
(1) Mullarney K, Svensson L, Zetterström D, Grant P.J, (1999) The Collins bird guide, Harper Collins Publishers, London
(2) Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBridge, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife, Harper Collins Publishers, London
(3) Bird Life International. (2010) Phoenicopterus roseus – The Greater Flamingo [online] Available:
http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3769&m=0 [date accessed: 12/01/2011]
(4) Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Third Edition, Marshall Cavendish, New York
(5) Okes, N. C., Hockey, P. A., Cumming, G. S. (2008) Habitat use and life history as predictors of bird responses to habitat change, Conservation Biology, 22: 151–163.
(6) del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona
(7) Brown, L. H., Urban, E. K. and Newman, K. (1982) The birds of Africa, Vol I., Academic Press, London
(1) Greater Flamingo Interactive Atlas (2010) Greater Flamingo Map [online] Available:
http://www.flamingoatlas.org/ [date accessed: 12/01/2011]
(2) ARKive (2010) Greater Flamingo [online] Available:
http://www.arkive.org/greater-flamingo/phoenicopterus-roseus/ [date accessed: 12/01/2011]
(3) Glassom, D., and G. M. Branch. (1997) Impact of predation by greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus on the macrofauna of two southern African lagoons, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 149: 1–12
(4) Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) (2010) Greater Flamingo [online] Available:
http://www.wwt.org.uk/text/444/flamingos.html [date accessed: 12/01/2011]
(5) Béchet, A. and Johnson, A. R. (2008) Anthropogenic and environmental determinants of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus breeding numbers and productivity in the Camargue (Rhone delta, southern France), Ibis, 150: 69-79