She catches his eye from across the crowded dance floor. He approaches and makes a sweeping bow. She turns her head shyly to the side and curtsies in return. They circle one another for a moment, then join the crowd of other long-legged dancers.
You won't spot this couple on "Dancing With the Stars," nor will you see them in an elegant ballroom. But journey to a shallow salty lagoon and you're sure to find them dancing! The dancers are American flamingos.
With their long legs, long necks, striking pink color and boomerang-shaped bills, flamingos are unmistakable birds. Globally, there are six species -- two in Africa (greater and lesser flamingos), three in South America (Andean, James', and Chilean flamingos), and one in the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands (American flamingos). American and greater flamingos are the tallest species, standing almost 5 feet.
The pink feathers of flamingos are the result of the bird's diet. Their curved bills are lined with tiny ridges, like the teeth of a comb, called lamellae. They use muscular tongues to rapidly pump water through their bills. The lamellae filter microscopic plants and animals from the rich saltwater where flamingos wade. These tiny organisms are full of natural pigments that get deposited in growing feathers, making them pink in color. If flamingos don't have enough pigment in their diet, the feathers will turn grayish white.
The American flamingos at the National Aviary eat a special diet that resembles dry dog food. This flamingo chow provides the birds with everything they need to stay healthy -- and bright pink.
The peculiar "dance" that flamingos perform plays a role in social interactions and mate selection within flocks of hundreds or even thousands of birds. Scientists are still debating the exact purpose of the flamingo dance. Most speculate that flamingos can show potential mates that they are fit and healthy by strutting and stretching their wings, legs and necks.
When even a small number of flamingos begin to dance, the entire flock will often join in. The birds dance instinctively and do not need to learn the routine. They are born with the urge. One of the National Aviary's trainers, Dave Miller, spent time in the Yucatan Peninsula studying wild American flamingos and observing their movements and vocalizations. He even learned how to trigger the flamingos' instinctive dance, and can demonstrate the technique with the National Aviary's own flock of seven American flamingos that live in the Wetlands of the Americas exhibit.
Saturday and Sunday, the National Aviary is celebrating everything flamingo during our second annual FlamingoFest! Visitors can meet our fabulous flock and enjoy flamingo stories, crafts, facts and flamingo dancing.
FlamingoFest guests will have the chance to win a free Flamingo Connection at the National Aviary. Flamingo Connections provide nose-to-beak experiences that put you in the middle of our flock.
Find more information at www.aviary.org.