Photo by PaulaCobleigh/Shutterstock.com
When you think of a flamingo, you think of a tropical background, with a beautifully blue body of water, gorgeous trees in the background, and sandy beaches, in part because those are common characteristics of where you’d normally find these birds. But can flamingos live in cold weather, too?
Snow, cold, ice, and frost are nowhere near flamingos in your brain, but you might be surprised to learn what the fabulous fowl can endure.
Can Flamingos Live in Cold Weather?
In short, yes. That doesn’t mean a flamingo could hack it in Alaska, but the bird is more adaptable to colder conditions than most would think.
Just Chilean! 🦩 Our flamingo flock is native to the Andes Mountains in South America where temperatures are extreme. They are accustomed to both hot AND cold. Stay safe and warm, Houston!— Houston Zoo (@houstonzoo) February 15, 2021
📸: Bird Keeper Kelly pic.twitter.com/gHQcOvqbiV
Some flamingos live in very high altitudes, namely in the Andes. There have been flamingo colonies found in the Bolivian Andes at more than 13,000 feet above sea level, and if you’ve ever been in mountains like that, you know that it can sometimes get quite balmy up there.
In 2021, Nashville Zoo Bird Keeper Megan Fox explained to Davis Nolan of WKRN how flamingos handle when colder weather hits Tennessee.
“We have two species of flamingos here at the zoo,” Fox said. “We have Caribbean Flamingos and Greater Flamingos. And when you think of flamingos, a lot of people think they are just a warm-weather animal. But they are found in lots of different habitats, including very cold climates. So, they can deal with cold weather pretty easily, but they have a lot of adaptations to help them with that, the most important being their feathers.”
How Can Flamingos Manage the Cold Weather?
Flamingo feathers do more than make them look beautiful.
The animal’s feathers are very good insulators, and they do a great job of trapping the bird’s body heat close to its skin.
“When we’re wearing long sleeves and jackets and things like that, it’s creating little pockets of air in between those layers that warm from our body heat,” Fox told Nolan. “Feathers wor the exact same way. They have down feathers at the bottom and they’ve for the feather layers on top. And that kind of heats around there and keeps them warm.”
My series finale of birds from Lake Junin, is 4 species that I would argue are the quintessential wetland birds of the Andes: Chilean flamingo, Andean flicker, plumbeous rail, and Aplomado falcon. pic.twitter.com/lTE4MyXNDA— Oscar Wainwright (@OscarWainwrigh3) April 28, 2022
Another thing flamingos are well-known for also helps keep them cozy in the cold. When one of these fowls stand on one leg and tuck the other one in, it spares one of its stems from exposure to the elements. When standing in water, a flamingo with its leg up will maintain 140% to 170% more of its body heat than one with both legs down. Flamingos will also turn their head entirely around, then shove their beak down into their feathers to keep that exposed area away from outside influences, too.
Photo by SusanBSheldon/Shutterstock.com
Basically, these are some very resourceful birds who have clearly evolved to some degree to be able to handle weather that most people would probably assume was much too harsh for them to manage.
How Far Is Too Far?
Flamingos are resilient creatures who can withstand more than many, but they’re not immortal. This bird thrives and requires water to survive. Anywhere where temperatures drop low enough for the water to freeze isn’t tenable for this animal. Flamingos have to have a place to find food, and a hockey rink won’t cut it.
But as long as a place stays warm enough that flamingos can wade, chill, and chomp in some water, the birds can make it work.
Of course, a heated pool also works, though those can be harder to find outside of captivity.