What Do Flamingos Eat?

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Flamingos are fascinating, from their long, awkward-looking legs to their pink color and downward-curving beak. But like all living things, they need their fuel to get through the day. So, what do flamingos eat?

What Do Flamingos Eat?

Flamingos love to live around lakes, swamps, and other similar shallow bodies of water, which might give you some kind of idea of what kind of food these beautiful birds consume. Some very common items on flamingo menus are blue-green algae, red algae, diatoms, insects, insect larvae, and even small crustaceans and molluscs. Flamingos have been known to enjoy their shrimp, which is something you may have in common with the fabulous bird, although your fowl friend usually leaves out the cocktail.

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Not all flamingos eat the same, though. There are multiple species of flamingo, and they have physical differences that affect their diets. Some have differing filtering bills from others, which determines what food they’re capable of handling. Lesser, James’, and Andean flamingos have deep-keeled bills, which means algae and diatoms make up a lot of their diets. Meanwhile, Greater, Caribbean, and Chilean flamingos sport shallow-keeled bills, so they’re munching on mainly insects and small water animals, from invertebrates to tiny fish. Caribbean flamingos’ main sources of food come from fly larvae and pupils and brine shrimp.

How Do Flamingos Eat?

Ever seen a flamingo stomp around in what appears to us silly humans as an awkward romp? That doesn’t mean that flamingo has poor social skills or feels like splashing its friends - that’s the food dance! Flamingos will step forcefully down into the mud to disrupt the food awaiting them in the water bed to help to float up into their open mouths. This is part of why flamingos legs are so long. Not only does it allow them to search for food in deeper waters, it also helps them with the mud-stomp method.

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After the mud stomping comes the curved bill, which allows flamingos to hang their heads upside down in the water so food can rush into their mouths. They’ll move their heads back and forth to collect tasty morsels, with deep-keeled bill flamingos keeping their mouths just slightly below the water’s surface and shallow-keeled bill flamingos sticking their heads further down into the mud to capture their meals. 

Flamingos use their bills to filter food out of the water, then have themselves some yummy unborn insects and algae to fill them up. The speed is also dependent on the species. Lesser flamingos will pump water through their bills 20 times per second, while Caribbean flamingos will do so only four or five times each second. Lesser flamingos also eat much less than Caribbean flamingos, consuming just 60 grams in dry weight of food a day compared to 270 grams for their Caribbean counterparts.

Do Flamingos Drink Water?

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Flamingos filter out water when they eat, but it’s not an absolute science. Also, as a living creature, flamingos of course need water to survive, too. They feed in saline water, but flamingos drink fresh water only. Normally, a flamingo will drink at least four gallons of water each day.