Its large size allows the greater flamingo to wade into deeper water than most other flamingos, and it sometimes also swims (4). This species typically feeds with the head and most of the neck underwater, while walking along steadily, often stirring up the bottom mud with the feet, to bring out prey (2) (6). The tongue is used to ‘pump’ water through the specialised beak, which has rows of comb-like plates that filter out food items (4) (6) (7), such as small crustaceans, molluscs, worms, insects, crabs, and perhaps small fish. Plant material is also taken, including grass seeds and shoots, decaying leaves, and algae, and the greater flamingo may even ingest mud in order to extract the organic matter it contains (2). The presence of certain carotenoid pigments in the algae and crustaceans are what give the flamingo its distinctive pink plumage (4) (9).
The greater flamingo is a highly social species, nesting in large, dense colonies, often numbering as many as 20,000 pairs, or exceptionally up to 200,000 pairs. The breeding season varies with location, and may occur at irregular intervals in some areas, following the rains (2) (7). Flamingos perform spectacular group courtship displays, involving synchronised wing-raising, ritualised preening, and ‘head-flagging’, raising the neck and beak and turning the head from side to side (4) (10).
The nest is a tall dome of hardened mud, with a shallow depression in the top, although a small pile of stones and debris, lined with grass, twigs and feathers, is used if mud is not available (2) (6) (7). The greater flamingo lays a single egg, which is incubated for 27 to 31 days (2). At a week or so, the chick leaves the nest and joins a crèche (4) (9). Amazingly, the adult flamingo is able to locate its chick from amongst the hundreds or thousands of others, by its call (9). The chick fledges after 65 to 90 days (2), but does not reach sexual maturity before 3 years old. Most of the birds will not breed for the first time until 5 to 10 years old (11). The greater flamingo may live for over 40 years in the wild (12).