Whereas smaller flamingos and other wading birds are restricted to the shallows, the Caribbean flamingo’s great size enables it to wade out into relatively deep water. It rarely takes food from the surface, but instead generally feeds with its whole head submerged underwater. With its bill held only slightly open, it filters out food particles by allowing water to pass across rows of tiny comb-like plates on the bill’s edges (4). Utilising this specialized technique it is able to obtain huge quantities of the crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic insects, polychaete worms, and algae on which it depends. It is the presence of certain carotenoids in the algae and crustaceans that give the flamingo its distinctively coloured plumage (2) (4).
The Caribbean flamingo is a highly social species, with colonies ranging in size from just a few dozen to hundreds of thousands of individual birds during the breeding season (2) (4). Group courtship displays are typical of this flamingo, with thousands of individuals raising their wings, turning their heads, or bowing their necks in spectacular synchrony. Engaging in these displays ensures that all members of the colony are ready to mate at the same time (4). Both sexes are involved in building the nest from bits of mud piled into a smooth cone, and spaced just beyond pecking distance of other pairs’ nests. Usually just a single egg is laid, which is incubated by both parents over 27 to 31 days (2). Around six to eight days after hatching, the chicks leave the nests and gather in large crèches, overseen by a small number of adults, and eventually fledge at around 9 to 13 weeks (2) (4).
Although the Caribbean flamingo is generally considered to be non-migratory, it is extremely nomadic, and will travel hundreds of kilometres in response to shifting resources (2). Large flocks form long, curving lines in flight, with each bird flying with its neck and legs distinctively outstretched (2) (4).