Flamingos are some of the world’s most majestic birds, and they are iconic for their pink plumage and long curved necks.

However, given that most people only ever see them standing, perched on one leg, it can be difficult to imagine them taking to the sky.

However, flamingos can and do fly quite efficiently.

Let’s take a closer look to see how and why flamingos fly. 

Different Types of Flamingos

There are six different types of flamingos across the world, all of which are found primarily in subtropical and tropic ecosystems. 

Caribbean flamingo
Caribbean flamingo
  • The Chilean Flamingo: This type of flamingo is found in central Peru, the coasts of South America, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and southern Brazil. However, some have also been reported on the Falkland Islands and in Ecuador.
  • The Lesser Flamingo: This flamingo is found in eastern, western, and southwestern areas of Africa. A large population has also been established in India, although some do go as far as southern Spain.
  • The James’ Flamingo: The James’ flamingo has the most restricted range of any of the flamingos and is usually only found in southern Peru, western Bolivia, northwest Argentina, and northeastern Chile. 
  • The Andean Flamingo: This flamingo species is found in South America, primarily in southern Peru, western Bolivia, northwestern  Argentina, and north-central Peru. 
  • The Caribbean Flamingo: As the name hints, this species is found primarily in the Caribbean, primarily in Cuba, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and the Yukatan. However, they have also been established on the northernmost coast of South America. 
  • The Greater Flamingo: This species is one of the most widespread, and it can be found in northwest India, the western Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East. Some small populations can also be found in northern Europe and in the East towards Siberia. 

Commonalities and Habitat

While these six species of flamingos have their differences, their habitats all have some similarities that help tie them together. 

Typically, flamingo habitat tends to be large saline or alkaline lakes with low vegetation.

These can be close to the sea or well inland.

Areas like mangrove swamps, sandy islands, and tidal flats are common habitats that flamingos frequent. 

In addition to these preferences, the presence of fish in the lakes that they tend to inhabit can have an impact on whether or not a species chooses to gather there.

For instance, while some flamingo species are unaffected by the presence of fish, species like the Chilean, Greater, and Caribbean flamingo prefer lakes with scarce or absent fish populations.

This is because the fish can be seen as a competitor for their primary food sources. 


Flamingo Population

The lesser flamingo is by far the most common and numerous of the flamingo species.

It is estimated that 1.5 to 2.5 million flamingos exist in the wild today.

The Greater flamingo comes in second in terms of population.

However, due to their large range and migration patterns, there isn’t an exact number as to how many are currently in the wild. 

The Caribbean flamingo previously had a decreasing population, with only 21,500 reported in 1956.

However, they have since made a comeback and now have a steady population of around 850,000. 

The Andean flamingo is now the species with the lowest population, with only 33,927 known in the wild.

In 2010, it was declared endangered after decades of decline. 

How Flamingos Fly

All species of flamingo are capable of flight, and they can even flay long distances.

In a single night, a flamingo can fly as much as 375 miles and they can reach altitudes of up to 15,000 feet. 

Flamingos prefer to fly at higher altitudes during the daytime hours as it can help conserve energy during long migrations.

They can also reach impressive speeds while flying, with some reaching between 30 and 40 mph when wind conditions are favorable. 

Andean flamingo in flight
Andean flamingo in flight

Taking off and Landing

Unlike some birds that can flap their wings and take off from one spot, flamingos need a bit of a running start.

They begin their take-off by flapping their wings and taking quick steps to help them build momentum.

Once airborne, they stick their legs out behind them. 

When landing, flamingos are surprisingly gentle.

They’ll start by slowing their speed and pushing their feet downward.

Just before touching the ground, their speed will slow to nearly zero and when their feet make contact they will take a few additional steps to steady themselves. 

Flying in Formation

Like other birds, flamingos fly in formation to make long flights easier.

Because they need to flap their wings constantly while in flight, flying close together helps the flock to push more easily through the air resistance. 

While they are often spotted flying in a V-shaped formation, similar to geese, they have also been noted to fly in irregular lines and ball-like formations.  

Learning to Fly

When flamingos first hatch, they will be well taken care of by their parents, and they won’t make an attempt to start flying until their flying feathers develop, usually after 11 weeks.

By around two or three months of age, young flamingos will start learning to fly for the first time.

However, due to the salty conditions of flamingo nesting grounds, sometimes getting to the point of flying is difficult. 

For instance, if a young flamingo leaves the nest too young or has to walk to locate freshwater, the salt can solidify around their legs, weighing them down.

Once this occurs, there is nothing that can be done by the parent birds and the young ones will not survive. 

However, if the birds survive to learn to master flight, they will join the rest of the flock as they fly to different lakes, ponds, and nesting grounds. 

African flamingos flying over ocean
African flamingos flying over ocean

Why Do Flamingos Not Fly In Zoos?

Since you now know that flamingos can fly, you might be wondering why you never see them flying when you visit the zoo.

In some zoos, the flamingo habitat is open air, which means that they could fly away.

So, why don’t they?

Flamingos in zoos are unable to fly away because the zoo employees must pinion the birds to prevent them flying away.

Final Word

Whether in the air or on the ground, there is no doubting the iconic nature of these majestic birds.

They are often synonymous with tropical islands and feature frequently on summer-themed decor.

While they are amazing to watch, and many aren’t in danger of disappearing, in the case of the Andean flamingo, it is also important to keep in mind conservation efforts to ensure that this species of flamingo can continue existing for future generations to enjoy. 

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