Flamingos are known far and wide for their long, back-bending legs and pink bodies.
In the wild, you can find them in areas of the Caribbean, South America, Africa, southern Europe and Asia. You can also find plastic versions of these birds adorning many a yard from California to New York.
But these birds are more than pink plastic and feathers. These social, colonial animals are fascinating to watch, says Peter Shannon, curator of birds at the ABQ BioPark Zoo.
“It’s almost like watching a soap opera,” he said.
Each bird has its own personality, and groups have a defined social structure and hierarchy. Male flamingos battle for mates. While many of the birds get along just fine, Shannon says, some birds are just flat out troublemakers.
These water-loving birds can keep that drama going for a very long time—they can live up to 60-70 years with an average lifespan of 45 years!
The ABQ BioPark Zoo has a few dozen flamingos at any one time, and they serve as a highly recognizable “showcase species” that can hook visitors in as they enter the zoo. The zoo breeds flamingos from time to time, and welcomed a couple chicks in 2014.
People often wonder why flamingos are pink, says Shannon. Well, it’s all about the foods they eat—they have high carotenoid pigment (yellow, orange and red) in their diet. Interestingly enough, those are the only pigments they can metabolize—you can never make a flamingo blue or purple by feeding it different pigments.
Shannon also says many folks wonder why a flamingo’s knees bend backwards—well, that visible backward bending joint is actually their ankle. All birds have the same joints we do; they are just arranged a bit differently.