Adult Flamingo Feeding Chick - Photo by DavidNagy/Shutterstock.com
Unlike many creatures in the animal kingdom, flamingos generally raise their young as a partnership, in some ways similar to how humans raise their children. That means the male and female parents work together to nurture their offspring to adulthood. So then, how do flamingos feed their young?
How Do Flamingos Feed Their Young?
Flamingo Mother Feeding Her Baby - Photo by WalterWeiss/Shutterstock.com
Strap in, because it’s kind of weird.
Flamingos produce something called crop milk, which is a collection of protein and fat-rich cells that come from the bird’s digestive tract, and use it to keep their young full and satisfied. Adult flamingos will regurgitate the crop milk, then slide it down into their offspring’s open beak for them to devour. That’s slightly odd, but nothing extraordinary for life on earth. But it gets weirder.
This crop milk comes out blood red, and it looks precisely like one of the flamingos has been cut open and is feeding its blood to its chick. Rest assured, though, that is not what’s happening - your eyes do deceive you.
No they are not fighting. This is one of the most amazing thing in nature. Parent flamingos produce crop milk in their digestive tracts & regurgitate it to feed young ones. See how together they are doing it. Source: Science Channel. pic.twitter.com/GrJr4irGox— Parveen Kaswan, IFS (@ParveenKaswan) February 20, 2020
Why? Oh God, Why?
I know I was wondering why flamingos do this seeming bloodlust (though again, it isn’t blood) in their first few months of life, but the purpose for why flamingo chicks must be fed this way makes sense.
For about the first two months of a baby flamingo’s life, its beak is not formed enough to the point where it can eat food on its own. They need their parents to provide and produce that food for them, and it can’t be bits of shrimp or algae or other typical staples of the flamingo diet. It needs to be something they can drink down without a fully-formed beak.
Two Young Flamingos - Photo by MelKowasic/Shutterstock.com
That’s where crop milk comes in. It’s full of the nutrients a young flamingo needs to grow up big and strong while also coming in a form a chick can handle.
Both male and female flamingos produce prolactin, a hormone that makes the production of crop milk possible. That means flamingo parents can take turns feeding their young or work together to give their chick an excellent blood-colored meal (but again, to be clear, it isn’t blood).
Is This Similar to What Mammals Do?
Yes, it is. Prolactin is the same hormone in mammals that allows them to produce the milk they use to feed their offspring. The main difference between them, though, is the coloring. Flamingo crop milk is dyed red because of a pigment stored in the bird’s liver, a stark contrast from the opaque white coloring of milk from mammals.