Flamingos are very recognizable birds, best known for their bright pink appearance and long, thin legs. But have you ever wondered why these birds are so pink? If you want to know everything about the coloring of flamingos, you have come to the right place, this bird is our specialty, we have studied it for years. Flamingos are born grey-white, but they acquire the pink color during their life. The more they eat food loaded with beta carotene, the pinker they will be. It all depends on their food preferences. Flamingos color their feathers by themselves to make themselves more sparkling and attractive.
In this article, you will discover why flamingos are pink. But more importantly, you will learn why they are pink.
Moreover, the pigmentation of animals will not have any more secrets for you and you will be a real expert on the behavior of birds.
Let’s not wait any longer and discover together why these wading birds have this so particular color.
HOW DO ANIMALS CHANGE COLORS?
First of all, let’s look at the change of colors in animals, in general, to better understand what happens with birds and flamingos.
Many animals have developed special adaptations that allow them to change color depending on their environment.
One of the biggest changes in an animal’s environment occurs with the change of seasons.
While brown coloring is perfect for a wooded environment in summer, it makes an animal an easy target against a white background.
Many birds and mammals cope with this by producing different colored fur or feathers depending on the time of year. In most cases, changes in daylight or temperature trigger a hormonal response in the animal that causes it to produce different biochromes.
👉 Learn more about the changing colors of animals.
HOW DO FLAMINGOS ARE PINK? 🦩
Now let’s ask ourselves how flamingos get this so particular color in nature
In nature, the color pink is rare, and for several reasons. This color does not offer an advantage for the survival of the animals. Pink is indeed very conspicuous and attracts the gaze of predators, it does not allow animals to be able to camouflage effectively. Moreover, pink does not protect from sunlight.
This is why many pink animals have their color from genetic defects, such as albinism. But with flamingos, it’s a different story.
The animals’ feathers and fur are like human hair and fingernails: they are actually dead tissue.
Therefore, a bird or a mammal must produce a new layer of fur or feathers to change its color. It is thus by growing up that the pink flamingo changes color!
In many reptiles, amphibians, and fish, on the other hand, coloration is determined by biochromes in living cells. Biochromes can be found in cells on the surface of the skin or in cells at deeper levels. These deeper cells are called chromatophores.
Flamingos also have a habit of giving themselves a boost. During the mating season, they lick their feathers with their beta-carotene-laden tongues to accentuate their pink.
FEEDING THE FLAMINGO 🦩
Now that we have understood how the flamingo becomes pink, we will see here that the diet of the flamingo plays an essential role in its pink pigmentation
WHAT DO THESE WADING BIRDS EAT
- Small insects
- Blue and red algae,
- Mollusks and small crustaceans called artemia
- Small fish.
Their tendency to eat both vegetation and meat makes them omnivorous.
For flamingos, the quote “We are what we eat” makes sense. The bright pink color of flamingos comes from beta-carotene, a reddish-orange pigment found in large numbers in the algae, larvae, and brine shrimp that flamingos eat in their wetlands.
In the digestive system, enzymes break down the carotenoids into pigments that are absorbed by fats in the liver and deposited, for flamingos, in the feathers and skin. To actually color physical attributes, carotenoids must be ingested in very large quantities.
Since the flamingo diet consists almost exclusively of carotenoids, the birds have no problem coloring themselves. On the other hand, a human would have to eat a lot of carrots (a portion of food rich in carotenoids, which also gives the substance its name) to achieve an orange hue.
Flamingos get their pink appearance from pigments in their regular diet. Many believe that the pink comes from the shrimp they eat, but that’s only part of the story. While this is true, these birds also like to eat blue-green algae that bloom when available.
Both algae and shrimp are rich in pigments called carotenoids, and it is these carotenoids that are responsible for the pink coloration.
The livers of flamingos break down these carotenoids into orange and pink molecules that are then absorbed by their fat. This colored fat then makes its way through the body, coloring the birds’ beaks, feathers, and legs.
If flamingos didn’t feed on brine shrimp, their blushing plumage would eventually fade.
WHY ARE SOME PINKER THAN OTHERS? 🦩
In captivity, the birds’ diet is supplemented with other types of carotenoids such as beta-carotene and canthaxanthin. Beta-carotene, responsible for the orange of carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, is converted in the body to vitamin A. Canthaxanthin is responsible for the color of apples, peaches, strawberries, and many flowers.
Not surprisingly, the amount of carotenoids consumed by flamingos determines the pink color of the bird. The appetite and the type of food that flamingos ingest will differentiate its color. There are as many pinks as there are flamingos. The most greedy will tend to be of a darker pink than others, some being almost entirely white.
CAN THEY BE OF ANOTHER COLOR ? 🦩
Auckland Zoo used food coloring on their flamingos because red brine shrimp were scarce. And if red works, it’s likely that other colors would work too if zoo owners tried. In this case, it would be at the expense of the bird’s happiness and integration.
Like any animal, the flamingo is also prey to albinism, and even, in rare cases exceeding one in a million, flamingos can be found with melanism, which will give them a black color that has only been observed twice so far.
See here at Buzzfeednews this article: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemcneal/black-flamingo
HOW DOES THE FLAMINGO FEED? 🦩
Now you should have understood all the mechanisms of the pink coloring of the flamingo. That’s what we will discuss here.
Flamingos stand in shallow water. They roam ponds, lakes, marshes, swamps, lagoons, and all other wetlands. They then stir up the mud at the bottom of the water with their webbed feet to bring up their prey. Flamingos then lower their necks and tilt their heads slightly, allowing their beaks to tilt backward in the water.
These birds are great hunters. They spend the day sweeping their heads from side to side just below the surface of the water to retrieve food. Thanks to their tongue, they can filter the silt or the mud which composes the bottom of the water, to keep only the algae and the crustaceans which interest it.
They use their spiny tongue to help them suck up the silt before filtering out the food, and then return the water and silt to their beak. In addition to filtering food into the bill, the blades of its tongue also filter out food that may be too large or too small for it.
A DIFFERENT COLOR FOR EACH TYPE OF BEAKS. 🦩
What a flamingo eats depends on the type of beak it has. Lesser flamingos, James’ flamingos, and Andean flamingos have what is called a deep beak. They feed mainly on algae. Pink, Chilean and American flamingos have a shallow beak, which allows them to eat insects, invertebrates, and small fish.
That’s why these wading birds are born white but turn pink during their life. We can also say that the vivacity of its color attests to its health: the better the flamingo feeds, the pinker it will be. As flamingos move in flocks, also called flamboyant, the color of a group will attest to the richness of the food they find. Therefore, if you encounter different species of flamingos, you will notice that some have a color that is closer to dark red while others are pale pink.
ARE FLAMINGOS BORN PINK? 🦩
By now you may have guessed that baby flamingos do not have the same bright color as their parents. Let’s see in detail how the coloration of the baby flamingo progresses here.
THE LITTLE PINK FLAMINGO 🦩
Although it is their most famous quality, the pink of the flamingo’s feathers is not a hereditary trait. The birds are born with a dull gray color. So, if it’s not part of their DNA, why do these birds take on shades of pink and red?
A progressive coloration
- The carotenoid
- The canthaxanthin
- The astaxanthin
👉 Learn more about the biological pigments that color animals.
If the little flamingos are not deprived of vitamin A, they will be able to grow without problems, even the carotenoid responsible for their pink color is not an absolute necessity.
However, this very social bird will always need an attractive pink plumage to seduce its partner during the breeding season. So in a way, flamingos will always choose a diet rich in carotenoids.
In fact, since only adults reproduce and the coloring of wading birds’ feathers is gradual, they identify themselves as sexually mature once the group has identified them as adults by the intensity of their pink color.
Zoos have observed better breeding results by modifying their diet to make them pink or even bright red more quickly.
THE LOSS OF COLOR OF THE PINK FLAMINGO 🦩
You will have understood it, deprived of carotenoid, the small pink flamingo will remain white gray. The adult flamingo will develop new feathers less and less pink until it loses its color completely and becomes pale white like a heron.
In addition to their diet, environmental conditions can also have an impact on the flamingo’s color. Too much human activity in their habitat can cause anxiety in the waders and thus cause them to turn pale.
Likewise, global warming and changes in biodiversity can disrupt the flamingo’s food chain and consequently change its pink hue.
To learn more about how humans and the environment can affect the lifespan of flamingos, read this article
Canthaxanthin, one of the pigments found in their feathers, is a rather unstable molecule and its intake must be monitored, especially in captivity.
At certain times of the year, the flamingo’s anatomy limits the reserves in the tissues that maintain its pink color.
The diet of animals is sometimes complex, many zoos have experienced flamingos with bad colors, purple tints, dull feathers, etc… Because if the carotenoid plays an important role for the pink flamingo, a strict and abusive diet in carotenoid can lead to deficiencies for the bird in fat-soluble vitamins and lead to a loss of coloring.
BE PINKER THAN A FLAMINGO! 🦩
You will have understood it, the color of the pink flamingo depends on several factors. Its main one being its diet rich in beta-carotene.
You also know that this color can vary depending on the species, the diet, if the bird is in captivity or not.
You will be able to boast about knowing a lot more about animal diets and what they entail, not to mention that you know that a flamingo looks for the most sparkling pink to be more elegant.
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