Tuesday 21 May
Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Greater flamingo fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Greater flamingo description
The greater flamingo is instantly recognisable by its long, thin neck and legs, colourful plumage and distinctive downward-bending beak (4). As well as being the largest of the flamingo species (2) (5), it is also the palest, with white to pale pink plumage, contrasting red shoulders, and black tips to the wings. The legs are pink, the eyes yellow, and the beak is pale pink, with a black tip (5) (6). The female is smaller than the male, and juveniles are grey-brown with some pink in the underparts, wings and tail, and the legs and beak are mainly brown (2). The call is a goose-like, honking ka-haunk (6).
The greater flamingo was previously considered conspecific with the brighter coloured Caribbean flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber (2), but the two are now considered separate species (5) (7). The greater flamingo often mixes with flocks of the lesser flamingo, Phoeniconaias minor (6) (7), but can be distinguished by its larger size, paler plumage, lighter beak, and pink rather than dark red legs (5) (6).
- Also known as
- pink flamingo, rosy flamingo.
- Phoenicopterus ruber, Phoenicopterus ruber roseus. Top
Flamingo Resource Centre:
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT):
Greater Flamingo Interactive Atlas:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
- Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
- Belonging to the same species.
- 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.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Arising or occurring within a species.
- 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.
IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
CITES (June 2009)
- Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
Flamingo Resource Centre (July, 2009)
- Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
BirdLife International (July, 2009)
- Balkız, Ö., Béchet, A., Rouan, L., Choquet, R., Germain, C., Amat, J.A., Rendón-Martos, M., Baccetti, N., Nissardi, S., Özesmi, U. and Pradel, R. (2010) Experience-dependent natal philopatry of breeding greater flamingos. Journal of Animal Ecology, in press.
Greater Flamingo Interactive Atlas (July, 2009)
- Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
- Balkız, Ö., Özesmi, U., Pradel, R., Germain, C., Sıkı, M., Amat, J.A., Rendon-Martos, M., Bacetti, N. and Béchet, A. (2007) Range of the greater flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus metapopulation in the Mediterranean: new insights from Turkey. Journal of Ornithology, 148(3): 347-355.
- Pradel, R., Johnson, A.R., Viallefont, A., Nager, R. and Cézilly, F. (1997) Local recruitment in the greater flamingo: a new approach using capture-mark-recapture data. Ecology, 78(5): 1431-1445.
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) (July, 2009)
- Johnson, A.R. and Cézilly, F. (2007) The Greater Flamingo. T & AD Poyser, London.
- Béchet, A. and Johnson, A. R. (2008) Anthropogenic and environmental determinants of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus breeding numbers and productivity in the Camargue (Rhone delta, southern France). Ibis, 150: 69-79.
- Béchet, A. (June, 2010) Pers. comm.
Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (July, 2009)
Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (July, 2009)
Council of Europe: Bern Convention (July, 2009)
EC Birds Directive (July, 2009)
- Javed, S., Khan, S.B., Al Mansouri, R. and Al Hosani, E.A. (2006) Satellite tracking of greater flamingos Phoenicopterus roseus from the United Arab Emirates. Tribulus, 16(1): 16-17.
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Greater flamingo biology
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).Top
Greater flamingo range
The most widespread flamingo species (5), the greater flamingo occurs across Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and into southern and southwestern Asia (2) (5) (7). Northern populations migrate to warmer regions in winter, and the species often disperses widely, in response to water-level changes, food availability or intraspecific competition (2) (7) (8).Top
Greater flamingo habitat
This species inhabits relatively shallow water bodies, including saline lagoons, salt pans, estuaries, and large saline or alkaline lakes. Breeding occurs on sandbanks, mudflats, open beaches, or sandy or rocky islands (2) (6) (7). Other than using freshwater inlets for bathing and drinking, the greater flamingo rarely inhabits areas of freshwater (7).Top
Greater flamingo statusTop
Greater flamingo threats
Although a numerous species, and believed to be increasing in some areas (7), the greater flamingo is vulnerable to any changes or disturbance to its relatively limited number of breeding sites (9) (13). Breeding success is often reduced as a result of human disturbance or lowering water levels, which can increase the salinity of feeding sites and so affect food resources (7), or even cause thick soda deposits that can cake the legs of chicks (10). Climate change, and its potential effects on sea level and rainfall, may therefore have a serious impact on breeding sites in the future (9) (14) (15). Other threats to this species include pollution, disease, lead poisoning (from ingesting lead shot), and habitat loss due to harbour and industrial development or drainage of wetlands for agriculture (7) (9). In Egypt, large numbers of greater flamingos are shot or captured to be sold in markets (2), and egg collection remains a threat in some areas (7), such as in Algeria (16).Top
Greater flamingo conservation
The greater flamingo is protected under a range of international legislation (3) (17) (18) (19) (20), and a variety of conservation initiatives are underway for the species. These include management of colonies in France and Spain, to increase suitable nesting sites (7), as well as a satellite tracking programme in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (21), and the removal of sand polluted with lead shot at a salt lake in Cyprus (7). The greater flamingo breeds quite well in captivity (2) and breeding populations are currently maintained at various locations (13).
In 1978, the Flamingo Specialist Group (FSG) was established, with a range of research and conservation activities coordinated across various countries (5). The conservation of the greater flamingo is likely to depend on the effective protection of both its breeding and wintering sites, and it has been recommended that a conservation action plan be drawn up for this and other flamingo species, as a first step in better protecting these charismatic birds (13).Top
Find out more
To find out more about the conservation of this and other flamingo species see:
For more general information on the greater flamingo, visit:
For more information on this and other bird species please see:
Authenticated (14/06/10) by Dr Arnaud Béchet, Researcher, Centre de recherche de la Tour du Valat.
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.