Photo of the Month: Chilean Flamingo

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Chilean Flamingo by Jamie Pham

Chilean flamingo; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

The Chilean flamingo is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This species is most threatened by human activity, which includes lithium mining and industrial projects, egg harvesting, and habitat disturbance and degradation.

This bird has a large range throughout much of southern South America in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay. It lives near shallow water – either fresh or salty lakes, coastal lagoons, and river estuaries. Flamingos are very tolerant of salty water, and the Chilean species can be found at altitudes of up to 14,000 ft.

Like all flamingos, this species eats aquatic invertebrates like shrimp and crustaceans as well as algae, aquatic plants, and insect larvae. Its shades of pink plumage are due to the carotenoid pigments that are found naturally in the bird’s diet.

A flamingo’s long legs and necks and unique bills are adaptations for feeding; the bill is bent at a 45-degree downward angle, allowing it to be swept upside down through shallow pools, filtering food from water and mud as the bird walks. Its long legs keep its body out of the water while allowing it to forage in relatively deep areas.

Flamingos are highly gregarious and only breed in colonies. The birds form monogamous pairs and perform seemingly-contagious courtship displays  that involve complex, synchronized dances – neck streching, preening, and loud honking. When conditions are right (typically in late spring), a single white egg is laid in a shallow depression at the top of a mud cone piled 5-18 inches high.

The Los Angeles Zoo‘s Chilean flamingos can be seen on exhibit with the greater flamingos, just past the meerkats and before the first tram stop.