Pretty in pink

There are six species of flamingos, four in western hemisphere (Caribbean and South America) and two in Africa and Asia.  All are varying shades of pink, but when seen together in the same lake can be difficult to tell apart.

There are two species here:  Greater (large) and Lesser (small) Flamingos.  Can you tell then apart?

There are two species here: Greater (large) and Lesser (small) Flamingos. Can you tell them apart?

The Greater and Lesser Flamingo often occur together in dense aggregates in the same soda lakes in Africa.  As their name suggests, they should be recognized by their size:  Greater Flamingos are the largest of the six species; Lesser Flamingos are the smallest of the six.  However, the size factor wasn’t working for me when I saw the two species in a small lake at the Safari West wildlife preserve.

How about this view?  The bird in the front is a Greater Flamingo; the two in the back are Lesser Flamingos.  See the difference?

When the larger size and longer neck of the Greater Flamingo isn’t a good indicator, bill color is the best way to tell these species apart.  The Greater Flamingo in the front has a pink bill and lighter pink plumage than the Lesser Flamingo’s crimson bill and darker pink plumage.

American Flamingos are easily distinguished from these two with their bright pink-orange coloration.

Plumage of the American Flamingo is a dark pink-orange.  This species is found all over the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize, and the Galapagos Islands.

 This species is found all over the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize, and the Galapagos Islands.

The pink color of all flamingos comes directly from their diet and is most likely attributed to a bacteria (blue-green algae actually) that grows in the soda lakes favored by flamingos.  Birds that ingest the algae directly are usually darker colored than those that get the same carotenoid pigment from animal elements of their diet, like brine shrimp who also ingest the blue-green algae.

Cuban flamingos seen in April 2013.

Cuban flamingos seen in April 2013.

2 thoughts on “Pretty in pink

  1. I confess, Sue, that I couldn’t tell the species apart. I think that I would need a lot of practice and observation to do so, though it is immediately obvious that the flamingos are gorgeous.

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