The How & Why of White Flamingos

white flamingos
White Greater Flamingos - Photo by RK_Balaji/

Flamingos are famously known for their pink coloring - it’s the top thing the fabulous fowl is known for. But if you’ve seen enough flamingos, either in person or in photos, there’s a chance you’ve seen a white flamingo before. If flamingos are notorious for being pink, then how and why can one of these birds be shaded white?

The How & Why of White Flamingos

white flamingos
White Greater Flamingos in Namibia, Africa - Photo by JIEPENGXIE/

Why Are Flamingos Pink?

To understand why flamingos can be white, you have to first understand why flamingos are often pink. The reason for this coloring is because of what flamingos eat.

The bird generally munches on algae, shrimp, and other crustaceans, and these foods are loaded with beta carotene (also called carotenoids), a pigment that a flamingo’s liver breaks down and then is absorbed by the bird’s fat. From there, it works its way through the animal’s body and provides a pink, red, and/or orange tint to its feathers, legs, and beak.

So, What Would Make Them White?

A lack of those carotenoids is what can make them white.

If you’ve ever seen a white flamingo, it’s because he or she hasn’t been getting the proper amount of beta carotene to turn themselves that pink color people love to admire. This is most common to occur in captivity, because a zoo might not be able to offer the flamingo the exact diet it would otherwise try to find in the wild. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a white flamingo is an unhealthy flamingo, but it does mean that it’s not eating enough food that has the pigments that turn it pink.

So, you might assume flamingos are naturally that pink tint that helps add to their majesty and beauty, but that’s not the case. These beautiful birds are naturally white - it’s their diet that turns them into the precious pink prancers you know and love.

Does That Mean Flamingo Chicks Aren’t Pink?

Precisely. Flamingos are born with a white and/or gray coloring, and that doesn’t go away until the chick spends enough time gorging on some tasty shrimp and other foods loaded with carotenoids. The change is gradual and takes time, sometimes years. But when a flamingo chick first escapes its egg, there’s nothing pink about it.

It’s all a part of the growth process for young flamingos. Flamingo chicks are also born with straight beaks, which curve naturally over time as they age. The pink coloring of these wonderful creatures are just one of many processes that young flamingos must experience, like how human babies aren’t born with the ability to speak or walk. However, if what you feed your baby turns it pink, you should probably do something different.