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Exploring Nature

Texas is home to a diverse population of butterflies.
Photo by Celeste Cook

Exploring Nature

Exploring Nature: Flamingos

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The flamingo is a most stately and dignified bird. All pretty in pink, it has long, skinny legs that have been described as looking like two toothpicks sticking out of a ripe cherry.

Flamingos would have long since been slaughtered out of existence for their pretty pink plumes except for the fact that their beautiful feathers fade to white soon after they are plucked. Even live birds lose their pink coloration unless their diet contains plenty of crab shells and shrimp.

These crustaceans are responsible for the pink coloration of the bird’s feathers.

The largest American flamingo colony is found on the Inagua islands in the Bahamas. They are also found on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, in the Andes and in Africa.

I saw my first flamingos in the wild on a trip to Africa. I am told they are not as colorful as those in Yucatan, but they looked plenty pink to me.

Wherever flamingos are found, they tend to wade around in groups. They can swim with the aid of webbed toes, but much prefer to stay in shallow water. They make honking noises like geese and also sputtering sounds when they filter mud from their beaks.

The tip of their beak is jet-black and they have small, beady yellow eyes.

It is almost impossible to tell male birds from females, but this is apparently no problem for the flamingos themselves. Early each spring, the males hop and strut around, spreading their wings in front of the female. After mating, the female lays a simple, chalk-white egg, about the size of a hen’s egg, but slimmer.

It takes about a month for the two birds to incubate the egg. Newly- hatched chicks are covered in soft, white down. No pink.

The chick eats the shell from which it hatched and then the mother takes over and provides a regurgitated fluid from her crop. And so life is underway for another flamingo.

San Marcos Record

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