Family Phoenicopteridae consists of 3 extant genera and 6 extant species. The first genus, Phoenicopterus, contains 3 species: American flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber), greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus), and Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis). Genus Phoenicoparrus contains two species: puna flamingos (Phoenicoparrus jamesi) and Andean flamingos (Phoenicoparrus andinus). The third genus, Phoeniconaias, contains lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor). Family Phoenicopteridae are found globally in warm coastal areas. Distinct features of Phoenicopteridae are their long legs and webbed feet, as well as the different shades of pink their feathers contain. The most recognizable species is Phoenicopterus ruber, commonly known as the American flamingo due to its large size and bright pink coloration (Mayr, 2004; Rose, 2014). (Mayr, 2004; Rose, 2014)

Geographic Range

Greater flamingos (P. roseus) are found on the southern and eastern coasts of the Ethiopian region, with some individuals having been found more inland as well. They are also found within the southern and southwestern parts of the Palearctic region. Lesser flamingos (P. minor) are found all over the coasts of the Ethiopian region. Caribbean flamingos (P. ruber) are found all over the islands in the northern section of the Neotropical region. Chilean flamingos (P. chilensis), Andean flamingos (P. andinus), and Puna flamingos (P. jamesi) are found in the southern and southwestern parts of the Neotropical region with some individuals having been found more inland as well (Paul, 2021). (Paul, 2021)


Due to the nature of family Phoenicopteridae and their food sources they require access to standstill water to feed. Family Phoenicopteridae generally occupy tropical coastal regions in order to sustain large flocks. The most regularly occupied habitats are large lakes. There is some specialization within the family, Lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor generally like undisturbed alkaline lakes and salt pans. Andean flamingo Phoenicoparrus andinus also generally likes alkaline lakes and salt lakes but at an elevation between 2300-4500m. Puna flamingo Phoenicoparrus jamesi also follows the trend and generally occupies saline lakes in the high Andean plateaus. The other 3 remaining species are less specialized and occupy more coastal and marine wetlands (Paul, 2021). (Paul, 2021)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • coastal

Systematic and Taxonomic History

The current understanding of family Phoenicopteridae is that there has not been a name change at the family, genera, or species level.

There are a few synonyms in Lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor, Andean flamingos Phoenicoparrus andinus, and James's flamingos Phoenicoparrus jamesi. These synonyms consider all of the species listed previously to also be in the genus Phoenicopterus. (ITIS - Phoenicopteridae Report 2022).

Family Phoenicopteridae Bonaparte, 1831

Genus Phoeniconaias G. R. Gray, 1869
Lesser Flamingo
Species Phoeniconaias minor É. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1798
Genus Phoenicoparrus Bonaparte, 1856
Andean Flamingo
Species Phoenicoparrus andinus Philippi, 1854
James’s Flamingo
Species Phoenicoparrus jamesi P. L. Sclater, 1886
Genus Phoenicopterus Linnaeus, 1758
American Flamingo
Species Phoenicopterus ruber Linnaeus, 1758
Chilean Flamingo
Species Phoenicopterus chilensis Molina, 1782
Greater Flamingo
Species Phoenicopterus roseus Pallas, 1811
("ITIS - Phoenicopteridae Report", 2022)
  • Synonyms
    • Phoenicopterus jamesi P. L. Sclater, 1886
    • Phoenicopterus andinus Philippi, 1854
    • Phoenicopterus minor É. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1798

Physical Description

Throughout all the species of flamingos they are very similar. Some distinct characteristics are long thin legs, bright pink coloration, and a neck that is able to bend in curves in different directions. Males and females are generally similar but males tend to be bigger in size while females are smaller size. Although females tend to get their pink color sooner than males. Besides those differences, males and females do not differ.

Greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus have a slight expectation with their lighter color feathers and their darker/ brighter colors being on the ends of the wings. Caribbean flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber are similar in size and shape but are more the classic bright pink/ red colors all over the body. Chilean flamingos Phoenicopterus chilensis is the smallest body size of those described so far, but has the most diverse plumage coloration abilities. Chilean Flamingos plumage coloration can be a mixture of black, red, smoky pink, and salmon pink. The most distinguishing feature of this species is the bright pink ankles they possess. Andean flamingos Phoenicoparrus andinus are unique in the sense that they have yellow legs and during mating season its chest feathers turn a shade of purple/ pink color. Another unique character trait that is also shared with another species is Andean flamingos lack a hind toe. Puna Flamingos Phoenicoparrus jamesi are smaller than the Andean flamingo, more similar in size to the lesser flamingos. A defining characteristic is their yellow bill with a black tip, nicknamed the "banana beak flamingo". They also have bright red scapular feathers that extend over their wings, and have orange-like legs. Lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor are only lesser in the sense that they have the smallest body size out of all the species of flamingos (Paul 2021).

Younger flamingos differ in size and have little to no color until closer to adulthood. Flamingos get their bright pink color that they are known for from their diet. With the consumption of krill and other small organisms they are able to obtain their bright colors. (Paul, 2021)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger


Since family Phoenicopteridae are very social birds, an intricate courtship display is important to find a mate. There is a tendency for male courtship displays to be less intense compared to those of their female counterparts.

There are various movements that can go into a courtship display, not every species or individuals do the same movements. The general first movement that signals the beginning of courtship for the whole flock is what's called head flagging. Generally started by the tallest individuals in each flock (most of the time males) this movement consists of a stiff neck while the head moves side to side. Best described as a waving motion. This is seen in all members of family Phoenicopteridae, but Puna flamingos Phoenicoparrus jamesi have displayed a more exaggerated movement compared to other species in the family. Some species show more intricate displays, Andean flamingos Phoenicoparrus andinus have a synchronized march while head-flagging. Lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor also have some similar characteristics to the Andean flamingo, but while marching they also may display what looks like a broken neck. The motion of the "broken neck" is when the beak is brought to the base of the neck making a large bend. Due to the large size of flocks there tends to be some squabbling and jousting within the flock (Paul 2021).

Head-flagging is not the only courtship display that occurs. There are 3 various different leg and wing movements that go along with trying to flag down a mate but do not all occur in each species. The three different movements start with extending both sides of the wings in a move called the "wing salute". The second movement is a "inverted wing solute" when the wings are stretched out in a forward motion. The last movement is a display of both legs and wings, when one of the wings stretches out corresponding to the side with the already extended leg ("wing leg stretch") (Paul 2021).

Female flamingos have a tendency to use the inverted wing solute move over the other movements, but Puna flamingos tend not to use this move at all. While Chilean flamingos Phoenicopterus chilensis seem to prefer the wing leg stretch movement and Andean flamingos have a more stiff and rigid wing solute. Intense vocalization from both males and females also occurs at the same time as the courtship that is passed back and forth between sexes (Paul 2021).

The specific mechanisms that cause the matching of partners is still unknown. But a combination of color, size, mating displays, and age all play a role in the selection of mates. (Paul, 2021)

None of the species within family Phoenicopteridae has a specific season of breeding that is explicitly found in the literature, but there are some general trends that all the species follow. All the species generally follow the trend that the flock breeds together at the same time. This timing is generally in the warmer season that has a good to heavy amount of rainfall but is not limited to this season/time.

Once partners are picked through the fledgling courtship process mating can occur. The general behavior for mating is the female initiates the action by walking away from the larger group and lowers her head and spreads her wings in order for the male to mount her. Mounting occurs in shallow water. The timing between mating and the laying of eggs is not described in the literature. Post mating each couple starts to build their mound for their chick(s). This takes place about 6 weeks before the eggs are laid and while incubation occurs, normally one egg is laid but there have been reports of 2 eggs as well.("Reproduction" 2022).

Due to how much parental care and how energetically involved both parents must be to raise a young they generally only mate once a year. It takes about 28-32 days for eggs to hatch into chicks. The mature reproduction age is generally reported across the literature to be about 3 years for males and 3-5 years for females (Meziani 2011, Paul 2021). (Meziani, 2011; Paul, 2021; "Reproduction", 2022)

The parental investment for all of family Phoenicopteridae is very similar, flamingos are very devout parents, there is not an offspring produced annually. When a strong connection is made between male and female they maximize the chances of success for their young by attentively caring to the offspring. There is generally a long time period for the young to be able to live independently. There is a large commitment of parental investment between pre-hatching and taking care of the fledgling.

If the wet-land environment is negatively impacted by any means such as drying up or harmful degradation by human actions then there will most likely be a widespread loss of chicks and fledglings which will pause mating for what could be up to years before mating commences again.

Pre-fertilization/ Pre-hatching:

Both males and females play a role deciding a place for their mound (where they lay their eggs) within the nesting colony they are a part of. Both parents also play a role in building the mound, the mound is in the shape of a turned over bucket. There is a shared duty between both parents to incubate the young.

Pre-weaning/ Fledgling:

The large parental investment is continued by both parents having to direct the fledgling directly. For about the first week the offspring are protected inside the mound, the next 3 months the young are learning foraging skills and social behaviors. While developing those skills this is when the parents manually feed by fledglings directly into its mouth.

Once the chicks are around 9 months to a year their parents start to provide a substance that is high in nutrition and helps for rapid growth in chicks, and has a high carotenoid content (what stains the feathers pink). This substance is called "crop milk", a session of providing crop milk can last up to 20 minutes. Crop milk is generally a red/ pink color and is another high investment and energy action provided to the chicks by the parents. An adaptation that is seen in flamingos is their sight has to be very particular to be able to see ends of their bills to give chicks crop milk. This adaptation has also been honed to a high level since a session of provided crop milk can last up to 20 minutes as stated earlier. Another adaptation that accompanies the focusing eyesight is the auditory queue that triggers the secretion of crop milk. This queue comes from the chick's beginning cry as well as the constant pestering the chick has on the adults (Paul 2021, Meziani 2011). (Meziani, 2011; Paul, 2021)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • male
      • 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 lifespan for family Phoenicopteridae is generally the same for all species. The chicks have a lower survival rate compared to the adults, due to the chicks relying on the parents for food, nutrition and protection until adulthood. Once an individual has reached adulthood the average lifespan is about 25-35 years in the wild (Paul 2021, Perrot et al. 2016). In captivity the average lifespan is increased to 30-40 years with a max around 50 years old (Bradford 2014). (Bradford, 2014; "Longevity and cause of death", 2022; Paul, 2021; Perrot, et al., 2016)


All the species within Family Phoenicopteridae are very social animals. They group up in large flocks that can contain thousands of birds but have a smaller average for most species. Flocking is a protective mechanism that is used by a variety of different species of animals. It is used to be able to alert a large number of individuals of a predator, flamingos have adapted this well since a majority of their time is at the water line feeding or resting next to their body. There are many subtle movements or placements of body parts that convey messages to others.

When it comes to breeding there are many different movements related to showing off or threatening other individuals who are also trying to mate. For breeding it was also observed that the larger the flock size the more reproductive success there is, even when the flock is enlarged artificially by mirrors (Meziani 2011). Breeding flocks of a handful of individuals is very rare, only seen in captivity.

General movements like resting an individual's head on the left side of their body send a signal to others that they are more likely to get into an altercation but this has not been proven in the literature. This might be part of a social hierarchy or for competition for reproductive partners. Even though flamingos are very social colonial animals when it comes to food and foraging grounds they are very territorial. An individual can claim their territory and will defend it from all others with large displays of their body by fully stretching out their wings and neck to look as big as possible. If the intruder(s) do not receive the message and do not leave then a physical altercation called "bill fencing" can occur. Bill fencing is when two individuals bite at each other's beak in order to display dominance over the other. This territoriality can also occur when protecting areas with young chicks during breeding.

As a flock there will be select areas that will be more communal and open to everyone unlike foraging/ feeding territories. One of these areas is the freshwater location(s), due to their diet there is a large amount of sodium that is taken in and fresh water is needed to balance out said salt. This freshwater location is also the start for breeding rituals, once the flock has started breeding then another location will be selected for eggs to be laid and mounds to be built.

One of flamingos biggest behavioral characteristics is their general stance of standing on one leg. When an individual is standing on one leg they have one fully extended submerged in the water while the other is bent at the knee and tucked underneath the body. There seems to be no preference on which leg is submerged in the water versus tucked under the body, and there is not any proven theory in the literature of why they stand on one leg. But some of the theories are to reduce loss of body heat by only having one leg being submerged in the water or that it reduces the parasite contact they may come in contact with in the water.

Their flight behavior is similar to geese in the sense of colonial formation flying and honking noises in order to communicate. They fly with their neck fully extended to the front of their body with their feet stretched out towards the back. Their range for flight is hundreds of miles if needed but generally stay in a localized area (Meziani 2011, Paul 2021, Behavior 2022).

Individual behavior:

An individual who is not currently breeding will spend most of their time preening and resting. Their preening is generally higher than other waterfowls with flamingos spending upwards of 35% of their time preening compared to 10% of other waterfowls (Behavior 2022). They will also forage for food later in the day or at night. For an individual who is breeding or has an offspring will drastically reduce their preening time in order to take care of the young. They will also forage and feed more during the day to make sure the young have enough nutrition. ("Behavior", 2022; Meziani, 2011; Paul, 2021)

Communication and Perception

Family Phoenicopteridae is a very social group of birds with their large flocks that could contain thousands, communication is essential for the safety of the flock but also for communication between mates and offspring. Flamingos communicate through vocalization while flying which has been observed to sound similar to geese, these loud vocalizations are used in order to communicate landing and direction instructions. While on land they also use vocalization to communicate but with a reduced volume. An important part of imprinting a chick is hearing the chick's unique vocalization patterns while they are still in the egg. This is needed in order to return to the chick once it's hatched to bring it food.

Adults use physical movements more compared to those of chicks. Even the most subtle movements can mean something to another individual, something as easy as which side of your body does you head lie on can cause a vocal and physical altercation. A more recognized physical movement is the ruffling of feathers which can be compared to the hair on the back of a cat rising up when it's threatened. This ruffling of feathers makes the bird look larger in order to make the opponent stand down. If further action is needed then an individual can move their head in an aggressive fashion as well as making a clicking noise by quickly opening and closing the beak. If these warnings are ignored they may get into an altercation called bill fencing.

Flamingos use physical communication when it comes to mating. Their mating rituals are mostly driven by physical courtship displays, females will mirror the males movements when she has chosen.

There is no current evidence in the ligature or otherwise that flamingos use any chemical or pheromones for communication.

Similar to most other large Avians, flamingos listen to their environment through auditory, tactile, visual and chemical signals (Meziani 2011, Paul 2021). (Meziani, 2011; Paul, 2021)

Food Habits

Family Phoenicopteridae use many of their unique adaptations for their foraging of food. They use their long legs to stir up the sediment in the shallow waters mixing up many different options for food. Flamingos are not too selective when it comes to their diet, through the examination of wild flamingos stomachs they appear to eat bacteria, microorganisms, worms, nematodes, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, larvae, and even some small vertebrates like small fish. They also consume some plant matter in forms of algae primarily. They have a wide range of available diets but the small crustaceans are what is responsible for the bright pink color. The crustaceans have a carotenoid compound which then gets mixed into the skin and feathers of the flamingos. Without these crustaceans in their diet they will slowly become paler (but still healthy) and resemble other wild birds in terms of pale coloration.

Flamingos bills are highly specialized for filter feeding. Their bills have thin bony projections that line the inside of their mouth in order to act as a filtering system. Flamingos then take in a mouth full of water and move its tongue and beak to pump out water. Its specialized bill removes water and leaves tiny organisms in order to eat. Due to how they dip their head into the water to filter they are essentially eating upside down due the morphology of the beak. The bottom bill is spoon shaped while there is an articulation of the joint in the upper jaw. Like in other vertebrates the upper jaw is free to move while eating, so when the flamingos are upside down it looks similar in function to other vertebrate mouths (Meziani 2011). (Meziani, 2011)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods


Most species within family Phoenicopteridae don't have a large amount of predators due to their semi large size and large flocks they gather in (Bradford 2014). The majority of their predators are other birds which target the eggs of flamingos. The remote and odd locations of breeding limit the predation of terrestrial animals ("Longevity and Cause of Death" 2022). However, there has been reported predation from big cats and other terrestrial scavengers. (Bradford, 2014; "Longevity and cause of death", 2022)

  • Known Predators
    • Vultures, Eagles, and other avian scavengers
    • Leopards, Jackals, and other large cats

Ecosystem Roles

Family Phoenicopteridae does not generally have a large impact on the ecosystem, at least not that is mentioned in the literature. Adult flamingos locomotion generally mixes up their environment due to the nature of the ecosystem they are in. Since they are generally in shallow lakes or more muddy areas their movement mixes the sediments in the ground. Their diet is from small aquatic invertebrates and crustaceans which is stirred up by their movement and mixing of the ground layers. This movement of sediments might also have an effect of oxidation of the environment but there have not been any direct studies on this yet.

Young flamingos and hatchlings are susceptible to predation and other causes of death due to their small size. While flamingos as a whole are generally susceptible to diseases and pathogens like avian flu and tuberculosis (Meziani 2011). (Meziani, 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Family Phoenicopteridae don't generally have a positive effect on humans, in some cases they are hunted for their meat and sold in markets. They are also seen as attractions for tourists but due to the saline lakes and other locations for breeding they are hard to get to for observation. Since their bright colored feathers fade with time they are not sold at markets as a valuable material (Meziani 2011). (Meziani, 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Family Phoenicopteridae do not directly pose negative effects on humans. This is due to their seclusive nature and habitats around saline and alkaline lakes.

If there is any negative impact from family Phoenicopteridae it would be from transmission of diseases due to the large flock size and close proximity. Size avian flu and other diseases can be easily transferred between individuals because of their close proximity, but since they are so seclusive there have not been any cases of diseases transferred to the human population by family Phoenicopteridae (Meziani 2011). (Meziani, 2011)

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN red list there are no species of flamingo that are endangered as of this time. Unfortunately Andean flamingos Phoenicoparrus andinus are considered vulnerable (VU) and the population trend is decreasing. There are three species that are near threatened (NT), those are Puna flamingos Phoenicoparrus jamesi, Chilean flamingos Phoenicopterus chilensis, and Lesser flamingos Phoeniconaias minor. The trends for these species are decreasing except for Puna flamingo populations which seem to be holding steady currently. The remaining two species are American flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber and Greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus which are considered least concerned (LC) and have populations increasing (IUCN Red List 2022).

There is also a threat to the specific environments that each species occupies; it can be difficult to help undo negative human interaction especially when it involves the environment. There has been a large effect from climate change and water levels within the environments occupied by flamingos. There has recently been a push to help counter these changes through ecotourism and use said profits to help restore the ecosystem and environment (Paul 2021). ("IUCN Red List", 2022; Paul, 2021)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Nathan Ooms (author), Colorado State University, Audrey Bowman (editor), Colorado State University, Sydney Collins (editor), Colorado State University.



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

World Map


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

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.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


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.

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

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


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.


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.


active during the night


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.

saltwater or marine

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


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in


mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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Torres, C. 2015. New cranial material of the earliest filter feeding flamingo Harrisonavis croizeti (Aves, Phoenicopteridae) informs the evolution of the highly specialized filter feeding apparatus. Organisms Diversity & Evolution, 15/3: 609-618. Accessed February 06, 2022 at