Flamingos Eat Salt? The How & Why of This Strange Phenomenon

Photo by JiriHrebicek/shutterstock.com

Flamingos eat salt, and they use their feathers to do it.

I know that sentence didn’t make a lot of sense. Please allow me to explain.

Flamingos Eat Salt, Then Sweat It Out Their Nose

Still confused? Good.

Everything I said above is true, at least for the most part. Flamingos don’t exactly sweat salt out of their noses - I was simplifying the matter for dramatic effect (I’m so irresponsible). But they do eat salt, and their nostrils and feathers both play a role in this strange phenomenon.

Flamingos generally live around bodies of saltwater. Never ones to skip out on convenience, these birds double the waves they wade in as drinking water. But oh no, the water is full of salt! What will they do? Don’t worry, flamingos thought about this many, many years ago.

Equipped with supraorbital glands that basically serve as an extra kidney, flamingos can filter out the excess salt from their bloodstream and out through their nostrils, located just south of their eyes. This means the fabulous fowl can chug a bunch of saltwater and feel totally fine. Please do not take this as encouragement to try it yourself - your glands ain’t ready.

Photo by JiriHrebicek/shutterstock.com

But flamingos also need some salt to keep their electrolytes balanced, and they get it from a variety of sources. Drinking saltwater is one way, munching on brine shrimp and algae is another, and double-dipping on their tasty self-filtered salt is the most efficient.

As flamingos wade through the water, they will shake their feathers to dislodge pieces of salt that are stuck to them. Once that’s done, there is plenty of salt sitting on the water’s surface waiting to be plucked up by their former host. This allows flamingos to not have to drink water all the time nor rely on their food sources as heavily for their necessary salt intake. And if at any point a flamingo has too much salt coursing through its veins, that handy supraorbital gland will take care of it (which again, you don’t have, so don’t try this at home).

I Think That Makes More Sense, Thank You.

I’m just doing my job, ma’am.

So, You're Totally Sure I Can’t Try to Drink Saltwater? It Seems Efficient.

The Atlantic Ocean will be lucky to have you.