Flamingos are vibrant and gregarious birds found in many parts of the world. Most of the time, you either see pictures, videos or even flamingos in real life; they're generally in large flocks or small groups standing in the water. But can flamingos fly?
All species of flamingos can fly, with certain species reaching heights of up to 15,000 feet. Flamingos, on average, fly at speeds of around 35mph and can fly distances of up to 400 miles (approx 640 kilometres) in one night alone.
Although all species are capable of flying, not all species do actually fly that often. Out of all the species, the Greater Flamingo is one of the most frequent fliers as far as flamingos go.
This is because proportionately, more of their population tends to migrate when compared to other species; however, not all of them will migrate, even from the same flock.
Continue reading for more information on when flamingos fly, how high, along with more details about flamingos and their flight!
A flock of flamingos flying together
Although flamingos are large birds, they're capable of flying long distances of around 600km (373 miles) in one night. One of the reasons that long-distance flying is done during the night is to avoid predation. However, not all flamingos will fly long distances, and it's generally the Greater Flamingo that does most of the long-distance flying.
Flamingos tend to prefer flying at night, with clear skies and favourable tailwinds. This avoids predators like eagles and makes the flight quicker and easier, with the added tailwind.
Although Greater Flamingos are partially migratory, they are highly dispersive and generally speaking, not all of the whole population in the habitat will migrate. It's typically the northern populations that perform regular migrations.
Generally speaking, flamingos fly between 30 and 40 miles per hour (55 - 65 km/h). This varies depending on the wind conditions, but the average is around 35 miles per hour (60 km/h).
Greater Flamingo in flight
Most species of flamingos will fly between an altitude of 10,000 and 13,000 feet, which is around 3 - 4 km high. However, certain species have been recorded on radars of heights of up to 15,000 feet (over 4,500 metres) during migration.
This is known because large flocks of birds show up on radars, and the flock of birds flying high, was identified as flamingos. In this case, the flock was picked up flying high over Bolivia.
Flamingos are thought to fly at such great heights to avoid predation from other birds such as eagles. The higher range of the flying is generally reached when flying during the day for this reason.
When migrating, flamingos will fly in formations, and this is generally a "V" formation. This is part of the reason that some species of flamingos are capable of flying long distances.
Flying in formations like this requires less energy as each flamingo will fly slightly above the bird in front of them. This lowers the resistance from the wind, and in turn, makes the flight much more efficient.
Each flamingo will take a turn leading the flock and take most of the resistance from the wind. When this leading bird gets tired, another one will replace it at the front, and so on.
Whilst flying in formation, flamingos can be quite loud and make similar honking noises to geese. This noise does serve a purpose, and it is the communication between the birds to help organise and keep the tight formation that is essential for migration.
A flock of flamingos flying in a "V" formation
To take off, flamingos first start by running and will stretch their necks out. Shortly after this, they begin to flap their wings vigorously and eventually lift into the air. This take-off procedure is similar to that of a plane, where they build up enough momentum to be able to take off.
Flamingos can take off and land from both water and land.
Flamingo taking off
Once flamingos get into the air, they fly with their heads and necks fully stretched out and their legs trailing behind. The wings are fully open and will flap with powerful beats of their wings. The shape of a flamingo in flight is similar to the shape of an arrow.
The flying position of a flamingo
When the flight reaches an end, the well-organised formation goes out the window, and the flamingos in the flock will scatter and try to find the best spot to land.
The landing is essentially the reverse to the take-off. This involves slowing down in an upright position and dropping the feet downwards. When they slow to a low enough speed, the bird will touch down and run several paces before coming to a stop.
This can often be an entertaining sight, as it can be chaos with a lot of noise, although the actual landing process can be quite graceful.
A group of flamingos landing in the lake
In most flamingo species, young birds will fully develop their flight feathers at around 11 weeks of age. However, it won't be for another couple of weeks that these young birds can fly, and on average, they are between two and three months old when they can fly properly.
It's not completely uncommon for flamingos to fly with their young. This is when they reach around two or three months of age, and young birds will often still have their greyish plumage. If they do fly, it will generally only be for short distances as they need to reach their full size to fly the long distances.
It's not that common to see flamingos flying, but what are the reasons they fly when they do?
Flamingos fly mainly for migration and to find food, although this only happens when food sources in their habitat become scarce. The majority of flamingos are mostly residents and will reside in their range and habitat year-round.
Mostly northern flamingo populations will migrate, which is even more common with populations that breed in the higher altitudes. This is because lakes in the winter may freeze over, and they need to relocate to a warmer area.
Warmer areas can also be a bit of an issue and reason for flamingos to migrate, as when there is a drought in these warmer areas, birds will relocate to a more favourable site.
Flamingos generally spend most of their time on the ground, as this is where their food comes from.
A swarm of flamingos in flight
Most flamingos in zoos have their wings clipped, which makes them unable to fly. Clipping involves trimming the primary flight feathers, which means the bird is temporarily grounded. It doesn't cause any harm or pain to the bird, and flight feathers will grow back during their next moult.
In other outdoor settings, the top of the enclosure can be fitted with netting on the top, allowing species to fly freely around their section in the zoo without escaping.
Another method, which unfortunately does happen, but is becoming less common, is called pinioning. This process is cruel and can cause significant pain to birds as it involves completely removing the second phalange on the wing. Fortunately, clipping is far more common.
Generally speaking, flamingos fly high up in the sky at altitudes of between 10,000 and 13,000 feet and favour flying during the night. These two things make them extremely hard to spot, and during the day, they often fly higher at 15,000 feet.
Depending on where you live in the world, you may have seen a flock of flamingos flying up high but just not been able to identify them as it is almost impossible to without certain equipment.
When you do see flamingos flying, you'll notice that under the wing has black markings. This is another reason they are misidentified in the sky, as most people believe flamingos are pink all over!
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