Generally living in large flocks, this instantly recognisable bird is one of the largest and most widespread of all flamingos.
The adult greater flamingo is predominantly pale pink and white with an elongated neck, narrow wings and long pale pink legs. Primary and secondary flight feathers are black and the lesser and median wing coverts are a bright red in colour, contrasting with the remainder of the wing area which is pale pink. The bill is chunky, pink in colour and curving downwards to a black tip; the eyes are bright yellow. Males and females are identical in plumage colouring and patternation but the female is up to one fifth smaller overall. In flight the neck is extended forwards in a straight line and the legs assume an almost mirror image trailing backwards. Juveniles mostly lack the pinkish colour of the adult being mainly greyish brown overall with dark grey brown legs and bill and brownish wings and tail. Traces of pink may be seen on the underparts of young birds.
Instantly recognisable greater flamingo in flight
The greater flamingo’s diet has a direct influence on the colour of its plumage. Organic pigments called carotenoids are produced by plants and algae which are consumed by the bird. Carotenoids are either red, orange or yellow in colour with red being most commonly found in the food preferred by the flamingo, resulting in its iconic mainly pink colouration.
A greater flamingo preening itself
Greater flamingos running across the water
A medium toned, repetitive honking sound similar to a goose forms the basic call, particularly between pairs, changing to a more raucous almost barking cacophony within small groups and flocks.
The greater flamingo has a varied diet consisting of, but not limited to, plants, seeds, shoots, algae, insects, molluscs, worms and crustaceans. Whilst standing up with neck bent they feed from the bottom of shallow water using their bills which they sweep from side to side upside down. Less commonly they can also feed whilst swimming.
Pair of greater flamingos feeding
Greater flamingos are widespread throughout Africa, India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East but are also relatively common in southern Europe, where they can be found in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the Balearic Islands. Colonies of flamingos have also been reported in the Canary Islands, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan.
Preferring the salty shallow water of saline lakes, lagoons, salt pans and estuaries or even mudflats and sandbanks, the greater flamingo is never far from wetland areas. It will also choose water with extremely high alkalinity.
Nests are built from mud pillars with a saucer shaped top within shallow water or on small islands within the lake the flock is currently occupying thus affording some protection from predators. Breeding within Europe is normally between March and May whereas in north Africa it occurs as early as February. Huge colonies of up to 20,000 pairs of flamingos build nests with the breeding period frequently determined by the rainy seasons in tropical and sub-tropical regions. One white egg, occasionally two, is laid and incubated by both parents for a period of between twenty seven and thirty one days. Fledging normally takes place from nine to thirteen weeks.
Greater flamingo nest with two eggs
A juvenile greater flamingo
Life expectancy of greater flamingos is at least thirty five years.