Phoenicoparrus jamesiJames's flamingo(Also: puna flamingo)

Geographic Range

Phoenicoparrus jamesi, commonly referred to as either James’ flamingos or puna flamingos, is the rarest of the family Phoenicopteridae and is restricted to the wetlands in the high Andean plateaus of South America. In summer, it is most often found around its regular breeding sites in Bolivia, such as Lagunas Colorada and Guayaques, or in the high altitudes of Argentina. When these wetlands freeze and the climate becomes too extreme for survival, P. jamesi migrates from higher to lower altitudes within the high Andes in Peru and Chile as well as in Bolivia and Argentina. ("Puna flamingo", 2011; Caziani, et al., 2007; Mascitti and Bonaventura, 2002)


Within the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains, James’ flamingos prefer to reside in shallow, saline lakes that are conducive to their feeding behaviors. Furthermore, high-altitude salt lakes may be alkaline, favoring algal growth and consequently providing more nutrition for these flamingos. However, they also can be found in certain freshwater environments within tropical regions in South America. Their average habitat elevation is approximately 4000 m above sea level, but they act as partial elevational migrants, traveling to as low as 2300 m above sea level in the non-breeding season and 4870 m above sea level during the breeding season. James’ flamingos must migrate in the winter when the high altitude wetlands freeze, making it impossible to access the diatoms and algae in these lakes. ("Puna flamingo", 2011; Jenkin, 1957; Mascitti and Bonaventura, 2002)

  • Range elevation
    2300 to 4870 m
    7545.93 to 15977.69 ft
  • Average elevation
    4000 m
    13123.36 ft

Physical Description

James’ flamingos look similar to other species within Phoenicopteridae, with a few distinguishing characteristics. They are the typical pale pink color known of most flamingos, with some black flight feathers and bright crimson streaks around their necks and on their backs. Their heads are also a darker pink compared to their bodies. Phoenicoparrus jamesi usually stands at approximately 0.9 to 1.0 m in height, weighing 1.5 to 3.0 kg with a 1.0 to 1.6 m wingspan. Their small size can make it difficult to distinguish them from the immature Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus), their closest relatives.

Unique to James’ flamingos are their characteristically smaller, bright yellow bills with black tips, deep crimson patches around their eyes, and their unusual red legs. Their bills are at least 1.5 cm shorter than that of other species, and they have exceedingly narrower upper jaws, measuring a mere 0.55 cm, which is less than one-half the average width of flamingos. Phoenicoparrus jamesi can thus be identified from other flamingos, such as Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) that have longer bills and are pinker in color, and Andean flamingos, which are larger in size, with yellow legs and more black in their bills. The latter and James’ flamingos, comprising the Phoenicoparrus genus, share the characteristics of a deep-keeled, sharply curved bill and the lack of a hind toe, or hallux.

Sexual dimorphism has not yet been confirmed, but observational evidence suggests that males are slightly larger in size than females. Immature P. jamesi can also be recognized by the same characters as adult specimens, but they are gray in color with narrow streaks on their backs. ("Flamingo", 2011; "James's flamingo", 2008; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010a; Jenkin, 1957; Johnson, et al., 1958; Mascitti and Kravetz, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    1.5 to 3 kg
    3.30 to 6.61 lb
  • Range length
    90 to 92 cm
    35.43 to 36.22 in
  • Range wingspan
    1 to 1.6 m
    3.28 to 5.25 ft


Laguna Colorada is the most favorable breeding place for P. jamesi, gathering there in thousands of pairs along with Andean and Chilean flamingos. James’ flamingos are a monogamous species, using breeding displays of their coloration to attract a mate. These practices are highly ritualized and are performed by all six species of Phoenicopteridae. Prior to their breeding season, both sexes of James' flamingos exhibit display rituals, bringing the entire flock of flamingos into synchrony of their reproductive systems. After a flamingo chooses its mate, copulation takes place in the water, by the female submerging her head and spreading her wings so her mate may jump on her back. Pair bonds are reinforced throughout the year, and the two remain together until one dies. ("Focus on Flamingos", 2010; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b; Caziani, et al., 2007; Valqui, et al., 2000)

Breeding is directly affected by rainfall cycles, only occurring if the water level is neither too elevated nor too low. Throughout the summer breeding season of January through March, it is most common for James’ flamingos only to produce a single egg. The nests built for these eggs are conical mounds of mud averaging 45 to 50 cm at the base, 28 to 30 cm at the rim, and 10 cm in height. Since flamingos are found in colonies with several species, the nests of all the species present are typically found in proximity to each other, and they all appear alike externally. However, the eggs of each species are unique in size, with those of P. jamesi being the smallest. Its typical egg weighs 115 g and measures a mere 7.62 cm long.

The incubation period for the eggs of James’ flamingos is approximately 27 to 31 days. When an egg hatches, the chick initially has a straight bill and weighs an average of 73 g. At this point, the altricial newborn may spend up to 12 days in the nest, afterward becoming darker gray and developing the down-curved bill characteristic of flamingos. After three months, it is typically able to independently survive without additional help from its parents. It takes approximately 3 to 4 years for P. jamesi to reach sexual maturity and thus develop full adult plumage. ("Flamingo", 2011; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b; Johnson, et al., 1958)

  • Breeding interval
    James' flamingos typically breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is during the South American summer months, from January through March.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 2
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    27 to 31 days
  • Range fledging age
    12 (high) days
  • Range time to independence
    3 to 4 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 4 years

After a female James’ flamingo has successfully produced an egg, both parents share the responsibilities for incubation. They essentially rotate shifts so that the other can search for food. When P. jamesi prepares to incubate its egg, it straddles the nest, continually spreading its legs apart further and eventually dropping onto the nest with its legs underneath its body. Once an egg begins hatching, its parents often help it escape from its shell. For at least 20 days after hatching, chicks receive food in the form of crop halocrine secretions from their parents’ upper digestive tracts. This “crop milk” is composed of lipids and protein, ensuring that chicks obtain food of mostly constant composition in order to continue their development. ("Flamingo", 2011; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b; Johnson, et al., 1958; Sabat, et al., 2001)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The exact lifespan of P. jamesi in the wild is unknown, although it has been estimated that it can survive for up to 20 to 30 years. There is evidence of its lifespan being limited by habitat exploitation by humans through mining and also by natural declining conditions of its habitats. Both of these conditions adversely affect resource availability, thus making it difficult for James’ flamingos to thrive. Additionally, climate change has been documented to affect the abundance of diatoms, the primary food source of James’ flamingos, therefore decreasing availability of food resources and shortening their lifespan. ("Flamingo", 2011; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010a; Caziani, et al., 2007)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 to 30 years


Phoenicoparrus jamesi is an altitudinal, seasonal migrant that breeds at high elevations, but must travel to lower regions during the winter. It is a colonial species, found often in large groups of thousands alongside P. andinus and P. chilensis. These huge assemblies of birds often march together as a tightly packed flock. Phoenicoparrus jamesi chooses its shallow habitat with soft substrate based on its foraging behavior of filter feeding. Although it is most commonly seen feeding in the wetlands, it is also a flying bird that does so in an unusual manner. In order to take flight, it first runs several paces into the wind to gather speed. When it flies, its long neck is held out straight ahead, with its thin legs outstretched parallel behind its body. James’ flamingos rapidly flap their wings almost constantly while airborne, and they typically fly in flocks as they are seen on the ground. When P. jamesi preens its feathers, it turns its neck around to use its bill in a twisting motion. ("Flamingo", 2011; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b; Mascitti and Bonaventura, 2002)

Home Range

Exact territory size for James' flamingos is currently unknown. They are likely to be relatively small as they nest colonially in close proximity to others. (Caziani, et al., 2007; Mascitti, 1998)

Communication and Perception

To communicate with other individuals, P. jamesi calls with a nasal honking sound. It also communicates through visual mating displays such as head flagging and a wing salute. Head flagging involves stretching its neck vertically upward, then rhythmically rotating its head horizontally back and forth. Phoenicoparrus jamesi executes a wing salute by flipping its tails upward and simultaneously extending its neck in order to show off its ornamental colors. Like most birds, James' flamingos perceives its environment through auditory, visual, tactile, and chemical stimuli. ("Flamingo", 2011; "Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b)

Food Habits

Filter-feeding in birds reaches its most advanced form in flamingos, with their highly specialized bills that have been adapted to feed on minute particles. The specific filter-feeding behavior of P. jamesi has a correlation with its preference for shallow bodies of water. It feeds close to the edge of the water, along the banks of lakes where aquatic vegetation is plentiful. Prey can be found a few centimeters below the water’s surface, which are accessed by submerging the bill upside-down and stirring up sediment from the ground. It most often forages within 2 cm of the surface.

The bill structure of P. jamesi accounts for its primary diet and feeding behaviors. There is a definitive relationship between internal jaw filter structures and the size of prey that can be eaten. James’ flamingos have an intermarginal distance between lamellae in both their upper and lower jaws that is the smallest of the Phoenicopteridae family, resulting in an average smaller prey size than other flamingo species. Diatoms are their main food resource, such as those of the genera Cymbella, Gyrosigma, and Navicula. The diatoms ingested by James’ flamingos are an average of 21 to 60 micrometers in length, which is smaller than the food of other flamingos. An additional specialization of the jaw for microscropic prey is its inner submarginal lamellae that form a second filter with even smaller spaces. Through inertial impaction, diatoms are trapped within lamellae because they are denser than water, which flows out of its mouth. James’ flamingos also feed on phytoplankton and blue-green algae. ("Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010b; Jenkin, 1957; Mascitti and Bonaventura, 2002; Mascitti and Kravetz, 2002; Mascitti, 1998)

  • Other Foods
  • microbes


While there are no known specific animal predators to threaten James’ flamingos, humans take the role of predators through their methods of collecting and selling the eggs of P. jamesi for food. However, the tendency of these flamingos to reside in large groups acts as an anti-predation mechanism against this human behavior. (Johnson, et al., 1958)

Ecosystem Roles

Phoenicoparrus jamesi directly affects the populations of diatoms and aquatic algae in the lakes in which it inhabits. In areas of especially condensed populations of flamingos, competition is increased and this available food depletes at an accelerated rate. Phoenicoparrus jamesi has also been considered to assist in the conservation of wetlands through its habitual use of these areas, continually stirring up the sediment and providing fertilization through its waste products. (Caziani, et al., 2007; Mascitti and Kravetz, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans hunt and collect the eggs of James’ flamingos in order to sell as food for monetary gain. ("Puna flamingo", 2011)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of P. jamesi on humans.

Conservation Status

James’ flamingos are classified as near threatened because populations declined throughout the twentieth century but have since begun showing signs of improvement, mostly due to conservation techniques that have been put in place. Rapid decline of P. jamesi resulted from several factors over a short time span. Climate change is affecting diatom abundance, resulting in less available food for James' flamingos. Egg poaching, mining activity in Laguna Colorada, and unplanned development of tourism each had strong adverse effects on the survival of P. jamesi in its natural habitat. Mining activity is still occurring, and because of the high demand for water associated with this practice, these wetlands are being threatened.

One area, the Eduardo Avaroa National Faunal Reserve in Bolivia, is already being protected to conserve James’ flamingos in this region. There has also been both international and national conservation programs set up in each of the four countries in which these species are endemic. Further suggestions for conserving P. jamesi involve both yearly surveys during its breeding season to continuously monitor its population, and also increasing the region of the currently protected area to include common habitats found in Argentina. Another idea has been to initiate a reserve that covers Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile by amalgamating the management of sites in each country to more efficiently preserve breeding colonies and frequented areas of P. jamesi. This last method is site-based, whereas species-based conservation is another idea. The possibility of identifying James’ flamingos as Natural Monuments, a concept that exists in Argentina, would provide protection for them regardless of their location. ("Phoenicoparrus jamesi", 2010a; "Puna flamingo", 2011; Caziani, et al., 2007; Valqui, et al., 2000)

Other Comments

James’ flamingos were named after an English naturalist, Henry Berkeley James, who funded numerous voyages to Chile to collect bird specimens. On one of his trips, he obtained a new specimen of flamingo, later named after him in honor of his findings. ("James's flamingo", 2008)


Noelle Snyder (author), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Mark Jordan (editor), Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.

  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.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


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.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


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.


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


photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)

saltwater or marine

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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


uses touch to communicate


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


uses sight to communicate


2011. "Flamingo" (On-line). San Diego Zoo. Accessed March 23, 2011 at

2010. "Focus on Flamingos" (On-line). Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Accessed March 23, 2011 at

2008. "James's flamingo" (On-line). Flamingo Resource Centre. Accessed March 18, 2011 at

2010. "Phoenicoparrus jamesi" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed March 03, 2011 at

2010. "Phoenicoparrus jamesi" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 18, 2011 at

2011. "Puna flamingo" (On-line). BirdLife International. Accessed March 18, 2011 at

Caziani, S., O. Olivio, E. Ramirez, M. Romano, E. Derlindati, A. Talamo, D. Ricalde, C. Quiroga, J. Contreras, M. Valqui, H. Sosa. 2007. Seasonal distribution, abundance, and nesting of Puna, Andean, and Chilean flamingos. The Condor, 109.2: 276-287.

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Johnson, A., F. Behn, W. Millie. 1958. The South American flamingos. The Condor, 60.5: 289-299.

Mascitti, V. 1998. James flamingo foraging behavior in Argentina. Colonial Waterbirds, 21.2: 277-280.

Mascitti, V., S. Bonaventura. 2002. Patterns of abundance, distribution, and habitat use of flamingos in the high Andes, South America. Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology, 25.3: 358-365.

Mascitti, V., F. Kravetz. 2002. Bill morphology of South American flamingos. The Condor, 104.1: 73-83.

Sabat, P., F. Novoa, M. Parada. 2001. Digestive contraints and nutrient hydrolysis in nestlings of two flamingo species. The Condor, 103.2: 396-399.

Valqui, M., S. Caziani, O. Olivio, E. Ramirez. 2000. Abundance and distribution of the South American altiplano flamingos. Waterbirds: The International Journal of Waterbird Biology, 23.1: 110-113.