Caribbean flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)
|Also known as:||American flamingo|
|Synonyms:||Phoenicopterus ruber ruber|
|Size||Height: 120-145 cm (2)|
Male weight: 2.8 kg (2)
Female weight: 2.2 kg (2)
Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
With its brilliant pinkish-red plumage, long slender legs, and remarkably thin, flexible neck, the Caribbean flamingo is one of the most world’s most distinctive birds. Together with the greater flamingo, it shares the title for the longest limbs relative to body size of any bird. The legs are pink and, being a wading bird, the front three toes are webbed. The bill has a characteristic downward bend, and is pale-yellow at the base, pink to orange in the middle, and black at the tip (2) (4). Until 2002, the Caribbean flamingo was considered conspecific with the greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus), found in Europe, Africa, and Asia (5) (6). While both species are of a similar size, the greater flamingo has much paler plumage than the Caribbean flamingo (2) (5).
The Caribbean flamingo occurs on the north coast of South America, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and a number of Caribbean islands. In addition, there is a small, isolated population on the Galapagos Islands (2) (7).
Found in a wide variety of saline and freshwater habitat such as lagoons, estuaries, mud flats, and coastal or inland lakes (2) (4).
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).
Development, human disturbance, and habitat loss threatens the coastal Caribbean wetlands on which the Caribbean flamingo depends (8). Fortunately however, its population remains very large and is actually believed to be increasing overall (9).
In 2007, a network of in-situ and ex-situ conservation initiatives was established by the Caribbean Alliance for Flamingo Research and Conservation, to ensure the protection and conservation of the Caribbean flamingo (10). This includes a range of research and conservation activities coordinated across several countries that fall within the species’ range (7).
To find out more about flamingo conservation, visit:
- The Flamingo Resource Centre:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
- BirdLife International:
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- Algae: simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- Conspecific: Belonging to the same species
- Crustaceans: diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
- Molluscs: a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
- Polychaete worms: polychaeta means ‘many bristled’; this class of worms are segmented and bear many ‘chaetae’ (bristles).
IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
Zoological Society of San Diego Library (May, 2009)
CITES (May, 2009)
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Banks, R.C. (2008) Treat Phoenicopterus roseus as separate species from P. rubber. Proposal (#345) to South American Classification Committee, 0. Available at:
- Knox, A.G., Collinson, M., Helbig, A.J., Parkin, D.T. and Sangster, G. (2002) Taxonomic recommendations for British birds. Ibis, 144: 707 - 710.
The Flamingo Resource Centre (May, 2009)
American Museum of Natural History – Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (May, 2009)
BirdLife International (May, 2009)
IUCN Species Survival Commission – Flamingo Specialist Group (May, 2009)