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Cuban Flamingo

Theme area:  Tropical aquariums
Scientific name:  Phoenicopterus ruber
Class:  Birds
Order:   Phoenicopteriformes
Family:   Phoenicopteridae
Continent:  Central America and the Caribbean
Habitat:  Rivers, marshes, swamps and lakes
Diet:  Piscivore
Weight:  2 - 4 kg
Size:  120 - 145 cm
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There are 6 species of flamingos that are distinguished by the colour of their plumage and beak, their eyes and the shape of their beak. The Caribbean flamingo has a beak with a white base, coral centre and black tip.

FEATURES

These birds are between 120 and 145 cm tall. Once adult, the female is slightly smaller than the male.

Weight varies between 2 and 4 kg.

Life expectancy is 20 to 30 years on average but individuals of up to 50 years old have been reported.

There are 6 species of flamingos that are distinguished by the colour of their plumage and beak, their eyes and the shape of their beak. The Caribbean flamingo has a beak with a white base, coral centre and black tip.

  

DISTRIBUTION

The Caribbean Flamingo is found not only along the coasts of the Caribbean islands  but also on the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico and, occasionally, Florida.

  

HABITAT

They frequent saltwater lagoons and habitats with fresh water, including mudflats, estuaries and inland and coastal lakes.

  

ECOLOGY AND BEHAVIOUR

The Caribbean flamingo is a gregarious bird, living and nesting in large colonies. Its main activities are feeding, preening and resting. Communication within the colony is by means of calls and ritualized gestures.  Before and during the breeding season, the whole group carries out several types of perfectly synchronised parades composed of movements and various postures. Once a pair is established, it stays that way for a long time. Mating takes place when the pair has moved away from the colony. Some courtship displays take place before mating, but they are less spectacular than the ensemble displays. Nesting usually takes place at the edge of a wetland, with the male and female layering mud and plant debris to build their nest. The latter, which reaches 40 to 50 cm in height, is cone-shaped and has a recess on top to hold the single egg that will be laid. The parents take turns brooding for 1 to 24 hours, depending on the distance from the feeding areas. Incubation lasts between 27 and 31 days. At birth, the chick is covered with white down and its beak is straight.  Its legs and its beak are black in colour. The parents feed their chick either by regurgitating crop milk or by bringing food to it in their beaks. The chick is protected under the adult's wing for 5 to 12 days, often with its head visible. The chick leaves the nest when it is able to walk and swim. It then joins a nursery comprising hundreds or thousands of chicks supervised by a few adults. Chicks are able to feed themselves from the age of 4 to 6 weeks.  The parents still continue to feed them until their plumage appears, about 10 to 12 weeks after birth, when their beaks have taken on the characteristic curvature of the adult beak and they can filter their food. It then takes several years to achieve full adult plumage.

 

FOOD

Flamingo beaks have evolved to take on a particular shape that makes it easier to find food on the surface of the water. In fact, their beaks contain a kind of comb whose function is to filter the tiny food particles from the water extracted from the mud that the animal has stirred with its webbed feet. The two edges and the inner part of the mandibles are covered with horny lamellae arranged in rows, themselves covered with fine, flexible hairs. The tongue then plays an important role in pushing the slime and water towards the slats to filter it out and ultimately retain only the food. 

The Caribbean flamingo feeds on small shrimps, molluscs, microscopic organisms, seeds and algae.

 

THREATS

After a sharp decline in 1956, Caribbean Flamingo populations have increased and appear stable today.  However, this bird has a low reproductive rate and is suffering from urbanisation, lead poisoning, hurricanes and increasing tourism. Indeed, this bird is fearful and flies away as soon as it is disturbed.

   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

The creation of protection laws and nature reserves has greatly helped this bird maintain its populations. Reducing our impact on unprotected areas would increase the amount of suitable habitat for this species to live and breed.

Conservation
Extinct
Extinct in the wild
Critically endangered
Endangered
Vulnerable
Near threatened
Least concern
Insufficient data
Not evaluated

DID YOU KNOW?

The name "flamingo" comes from the Provençal word "flamen", which refers to the red colour of the plumage, reminiscent of fire.

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