Phoenicopterus roseusgreater flamingo

Geographic Range

Greater flamingos are found in the middle east, including Iran, Turkey, Dubai, Oman, and Afghanistan. They are also common in south and southwest Asia. Greater flamingos are also found at lower densities in west Africa, South America, and numerous locations around Europe, such as Italy, Greece, and France. In Africa, greater flamingos are also found in areas such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Egypt; though they are uncommonly found there. Occasionally, they are also found in other areas, such as Austria, Germany, Poland, and Sweden; however, they are considered vagrant in these areas. (Beletsky, 2006; BirdLife International, 2012; Wheatley, 1996)


Greater flamingos have a large elevational range, residing from sea level to 4,500 meters. They are mainly found in shallow waters of lagoons, lakes, estuaries, and muddy beaches. These waters all have a very high salt content or they are extremely alkaline, with a pH up to 11. Greater flamingos can also be found near sewage treatment plants, dams, in rice fields, and on low islands, sea bays, and salt marshes. In Africa, they are found near hot springs. (Beletsky, 2006; BirdLife International, 2012; Curco, et al., 2009; Elphick, 2014; Svensson, 2009)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 4,500 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1.9 to 3 kg
    4.19 to 6.61 lb
  • Range length
    80 to 150 cm
    31.50 to 59.06 in
  • Range wingspan
    140 to 170 cm
    55.12 to 66.93 in


Mating begins with elaborate group displays. These displays stimulate hormonal signals that begin breeding behavior in other members of the flock. Courtship displays include exaggerated versions of their stretching and preening activities. There are also group displays, like marching together and turning simultaneously. Greater flamingos are polygynandrous, meaning that they may change mates between years. They are also considered cooperative breeders because, after the first days after hatching, new fledglings are raised in a creche, in which large numbers of young are watched by multiple non-breeding adult greater flamingos. (Cezilly and Johnson, 2008; Elphick, 2014)

Greater flamingos travel in large flocks and mate at around the same time, resulting in a nonspecific breeding season. A pair of flamingos build a nest, usually made of mud and other materials, on an island or the coastline of a lake. The mound of mud is hardened by the sun and has a concave center for a single egg. The incubation time of the egg is 27 to 31 days. Both the male and female take turns incubating the egg. Once hatched, the fledging period ranges from 65 to 90 days. Greater flamingos do not reach sexual maturity until 5 to 6 years old. Greater flamingos do not breed more than once a year. (Beletsky, 2006; Cezilly, 1993; Elphick, 2014)

  • Breeding interval
    Greater flamingos breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding seasons in greater flamingos are irregular.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    27 to 31 days
  • Range fledging age
    65 to 90 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    5 to 6 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    5 to 6 years

After laying the egg, both male and the female greater flamingos take turns incubating the egg. While one is incubating, the other forages for food. If nesting begins in a place with inadequate resources, then parents will abandon the egg and re-nest. If resources are adequate, the egg hatches between 27 to 31 days. After hatching, young birds are fed crop milk by both parents. Soon after hatching, the chick is placed in a creche with other young greater flamingos, and is watched by various non-breeding greater flamingos. After their fledgling period of 65 to 90 days, the young flamingo's bill develops into the curved shape of the adult's bill, so that they can bottom feed instead of rely on the parents for food. (Cezilly, 1993; Elphick, 2014)


With few predators, greater flamingos are known to live an average of 20 to 30 years in captivity and the wild. Upper limits are 50 years in the wild and 60 years in captivity. The longest-living individual in a zoo was reported to have lived at least 84 years. Limitations on lifespan could be attributed to lack of resources. (Elphick, 2014)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    50 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    84 (high) years


Greater flamingos are extremely social. They travel in groups of up to thousands and communicate using auditory and visual cues. They travel constantly, looking for areas with adequate resources to sustain the entire flock, especially during mating season. Greater flamingos keep their young together in crèches. Adults that are supervising creches tend to be hostile towards hatchlings if they do not have young in that creche. But are not hostile towards other hatchlings if they have hatchlings in the creche. There is no evidence of a specific social structure in the flock, only that it mates at the same time as the rest of the flock. Because it is a bottom feeder, greater flamingos rely on low water levels and move to new locations to find appropriate situations for feeding. These flamingo occasionally flock with lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) in sub-Saharan Africa. (BirdLife International, 2012; Cezilly and Johnson, 2008; Elphick, 2014; Toureno, et al., 1995)

Home Range

Greater flamingos do not have home ranges, instead they are nomadic throughout a large range throughout the year. (Elphick, 2014)

Communication and Perception

Greater flamingos are a loud species that produces a noisy cackle. They are a very social species. Research demonstrates that greater flamingos have the ability to differentiate between different calls, using temporal and frequency patterns of the call. They aproduce a low gabbling murmur when feeding. When they are close to breeding season, greater flamingos execute elaborate group displays. This activity provides hormonal stimulation within the flock to encourage breeding. All the flamingos in the flock mate at the same time to take advantage of the hormonal intensity. Mating behaviors include head flagging, wing saluting, twist preening, and wing-leg stretching. (Beletsky, 2006; Elphick, 2014; Mathevon, 1997; Svensson, 2009)

Food Habits

Greater flamingos have a unique bill that makes feeding different than many other species. They have a shallow keeled bill, which helps them filter feed. They also have a filtering and pumping system in the bill, making it the most sophisticated avian filter feeder. Because of the shape of the bill, greater flamingos are forced to bend so that the head is upside down in the water, using their long neck and bill to dig into the mud at the bottom of the water to feed. Because they filter prey from the mud, they tend to consume organisms that are commonly found there, like algae, diatoms, crustaceans, insect larvae, and mollusks. The algae they consume help them maintain the pink tones in their plumage. Their diet also includes brine shrimp (Artemia selina), chironomid larvae or "lake flies" (Chironomidae), and rice (Oryza sativa) depending on their location. When kept in captivity, many problems emerge, including not having enough carotenoids in their diet to change their color. Also, the diet of captive flamingos may contribute to foot lesions. In the wild, problems also occur. For example, not having enough food as a hatchling can result in DRD4 polymorphism and a negative early body condition, which stems from the dopamine receptor D4. Also, water pollution affects their food habits, due to the pollution sinking to the substrate, where greater flamingos feed. (Deville, et al., 2013; Elphick, 2014; Gillingham, et al., 2012; Wyss, et al., 2013)

  • Animal Foods
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates
  • zooplankton
  • Plant Foods
  • algae


Adult greater flamingos do not face predation because of their large size. However, eggs and juvenile greater flamingos face predation. They are known to be taken in large groups by species like Marabou storks (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) and large gulls (Laridae). They are most susceptible to predation after being abandoned by mothers before hatching. Others are killed after their legs are hindered by large buildups of soda, or sodium carbonate, around their ankles. (BirdLife International, 2012; Cezilly and Johnson, 2008; Elphick, 2014)

Ecosystem Roles

Greater flamingos are hosts to various chewing lice species, such as Colpocephalum heterosoma, Triniton femoratum, Anaticola phoenocopteri, and Anatoecus pygaaspis. Also, Eurasian flamingos, a subspecies of greater flamingos, can host at least three species of feather lice, Colpocephalum heterosoma, Colpocephalum salimalii, and Colpocephalum rosei. (Elphick, 2014; Price and Emerson, 1974; Touati and Samraoui, 2013)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • lice (Colpocephalum heterosoma)
  • lice (Triniton femoratum)
  • lice (Anaticola phoenocopteri)
  • lice (Anatoecus pygaaspis)
  • feather lice (Colpocephalum heterosoma)
  • feather lice (Colpocephalum salimalii)
  • feather lice (Colpocephalum rosei)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Greater flamingos are sometimes hunted and sold in markets in the Middle East and northern Africa. The eggs of greater flamingos are captured for profit in the Middle East. (BirdLife International, 2012; Elphick, 2014)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Greater flamingos sometimes cause damage to rice fields. (BirdLife International, 2012; Curco, et al., 2009; Elphick, 2014)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, greater flamingos are categorized as "least concern." Despite this status, the population is suffering from the effects of pollution. For example, soda ash is appearing in the waters from mining, causing soda (salt) ash buildup around the legs of the flamingo. This leads the flamingo not being able to move, which ultimately ends in starvation or becoming a target for predators. Lead poisoning from ingesting bullet fragments is a source or mortality as well as additional heavy metals and pollutants. (BirdLife International, 2012; Elphick, 2014)


Holle' Draughn (author), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Zeb Pike (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

brackish water

areas with salty water, usually in coastal marshes and estuaries.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


a method of feeding where small food particles are filtered from the surrounding water by various mechanisms. Used mainly by aquatic invertebrates, especially plankton, but also by baleen whales.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Beletsky, L. 2006. Birds of the World. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press.

BirdLife International, 2012. "Phoenicopterus roseus" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012. Accessed September 11, 2015 at

Cezilly, F. 1993. Nest desertion in the great flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Animal Behavior, 45/5: 1038–1040.

Cezilly, F., A. Johnson. 2008. Re-mating between and within breeding seasons in the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Ibis, 137/4: 543-546.

Curco, A., F. Vidal, J. Piccardo. 2009. Conservation and management of the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus at the ebre delta. IUCN-SSC/Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist Group, 01/1: 37-43.

Deville, A., D. Gremillet, F. Von Houwald, B. Gardelli, A. Bechet, M. Gauthier-Clark, M. Guillemain. 2013. Non-linear feeding functional responses in the Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) predict immediate negative impact of wetland degradation on this flagship species. Ecology and Evolution, 3/5: 1413-1425.

Elphick, J. 2014. The World of Birds. Buffalo, NY, London, United Kingdom, and Ontario, Toronto: Firefly Books.

Gillingham, M., A. Bechet, J. Geraci, R. Wattier, C. Dubreuil, F. Cezilly. 2012. Genetic polymorphism in dopamine receptor D4 is associated with early body condition in a large population of greater flamingos, Phoenicopterus roseus. Molecular Ecology, 21/16: 4024-4037.

Kaneko, M., T. Terasaki. 2010. Avian poxvirus infection in flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) in a zoo in Japan. Avian Diseases, 54/2: 955-957.

Mateo, R., J. Dolz, R. Guitart, J. Serrano, J. Belliure. 1997. An epizootic of lead poisoning in greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber roseus) in Spain. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 33/1: 131-134.

Mathevon, N. 1997. Individuality of contact calls in the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber and the problem of background noise in a colony. Ibis, 139/3: 513-517.

Price, R., K. Emerson. 1974. A new species of colpocephalum (mallophaga: menoponidae) from an Indian flamingo. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, 47/1: 63-66.

Svensson, L. 2009. Birds of Europe. Princeton, New Jersey and Oxford, United Kingdom: Princeton University Press.

Touati, L., B. Samraoui. 2013. Diversity and distribution of avian lice on greater flamingo chicks (Phoenicopterus roseus) in Algeria. Avian Biology Research, 6/4: 261-268.

Toureno, C., A. Johnson, A. Gallo. 1995. Adult Aggressiveness and crèching behavior in the greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Colonial Waterbirds, 18/2: 216-221.

Tourenq, C., A. Johnson, F. Cezilly, V. Boy. 2008. Age-assortative pairing in the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Ibis, 139/2: 331–336.

Wheatley, N. 1996. Where to Watch Birds in Asia. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Wyss, F., I. Brodard, S. Gobeli, A. Thomann, K. Kuehni-Boghenbor, V. Perreten. 2013. Arsenicicoccus dermatophilus sp. nov., a hypha-forming bacterium isolated from the skin of greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) with Pododermatitis. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 63/11: 4046-4051.

Wyss, F., P. Wolf, C. Wenker, S. Hoby, V. Schumacher, A. Bechet, N. Robert, A. Liesegang. 2013. Comparison of plasma vitamin A and E, copper and zinc levels in free-ranging and captive greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) and their relation to Pododermatitis. Journal Of Animal Physiology And Animal Nutrition, 98/6: 1102-1109.