This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, America's bird zoo. The National Aviary works to inspire a respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.
This week we look at the avian symbol of summer: the flamingo.
Flamingos are large water birds found in shallow lakes, swamps and lagoons in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North, Central and South America. There are six different species ranging in size from just over three feet to nearly five feet in height.
A flamingo's distinct pink coloring (the word flamingo derives from the Spanish and Latin word "flamenco," which means fire) comes from its diet. Flamingos drop their heads into the water to skim for algae, shrimp and other invertebrates that are rich in carotenoid pigments (also found in carrots), as well as aquatic insects and larvae. Their beaks are uniquely equipped to feed upside down: Good food is caught by tiny finger-like spines in the bill while mud and water drain out the back. Webbing between their splayed toes allows them to stand in soft mud as they search for food.
Flamingos are social birds that live in large extended families called colonies. They will not nest unless they are within the safety of a colony, and usually only one egg is produced each year. Both the mother and father build a nest of mounded mud and share the duties of feeding their chick.
Despite their size, flamingos can fly -- they just need a running start to get airborne. Once aloft a flock can reach speeds of up to 37 miles per hour. The sight of thousands of flamingos streaming through the sky is truly breathtaking.
Resting is done flamingo style: on one leg, which allows for easy take off in the event of sudden danger. And while a flamingo's knees seem to bend backward, the joint you see is actually their ankle; a flamingo's knee is close to the body and hidden by feathers.
You can learn more about flamingos by taking part in a Flamingo Connection at the National Aviary. Learn more at www.aviary.org.
Laura Ellis is media relations manager for the National Aviary.