The American flamingo, also known as the Caribbean flamingo, is the only species of flamingo native to North America. These flamingos live in and around brackish water and saltwater environments, like marshes, estuaries, and coastlines.

A flamingo’s anatomy is adapted to its diet—shrimp, crustaceans, mollusks, fishes, and algae that live in shallow coastal waters. Their flexible necks, long legs, and webbed feet help flamingos stir around mud—bringing those tiny bottom-dwellers to the surface.

Adapted for short migrations in search of food, the American flamingo’s habitat stretches from the southeastern United States, through the Caribbean, and as far south as the northern coasts of South America.

The population of American flamingos is healthy; they are a species of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List. However, development of coastal lands and islands, pollution, wetland drainage, and rising sea levels are damaging the habitats on which these birds depend. Wetland loss will have many consequences—and fewer American flamingos are a possibility if the trend continues.

  1. Flamingos filter water with their bills. Can you think of another animal that has a similar feeding adaptation?

    • Answer

      One example is the blue whale. It is the largest animal on the planet and consumes krill from the ocean using baleen, a bristle-like filter system inside its enormous mouth. Oysters also have filter-feeding adaptations. They collect food from water that passes through their gills, using small hairlike organelles called cilia.

  2. Loss of wetland habitat directly impacts American flamingos. How does wetland loss impact people?

    • Answer

      Wetlands provide numerous ecosystem services that support human society and quality of life. For example:

      Wetlands act as a filter for the world’s watersheds, absorbing many harmful substances before they reach inland or a larger body of water.

      Wetlands help with flood control by acting as natural sponges that can absorb the impact of storm surges and freshwater flooding.

      Finally, wetlands are home to many fish and seafood species that people rely on for jobs and food. 

  3. Flamingos are famous for sometimes standing on one leg. Can you think of a reason to explain this peculiar behavior?

    • Answer

      Some scientists associate this behavior with thermoregulation—the way organisms control their body temperature. These scientists suspect that flamingos tuck one leg in and stand on the other to stay warm during long days wading in cool water. Other scientists have observed flamingos consistently maintaining this one-legged position even when water temperature increases. It’s still a scientific mystery—maybe flamingos just find it more comfortable to hang out on one leg!

algae
Plural Noun

(singular: alga) diverse group of aquatic organisms, the largest of which are seaweeds.

anatomy
Noun

structure of an organism.

brackish water
Noun

salty water, usually a mixture of seawater and freshwater.

coastline
Noun

outer boundary of a shore.

consequence
Noun

result or outcome of an action or situation.

crustacean
Noun

type of animal (an arthropod) with a hard shell and segmented body that usually lives in the water.

Noun

foods eaten by a specific group of people or other organisms.

environment
Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

Noun

mouth of a river where the river's current meets the sea's tide.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Noun

environmental organization concerned with preserving natural ecosystems and habitats.

least concern
Adjective

lowest level of conservation, used when the population and habitat of a species are healthy.

Noun

wetland area usually covered by a shallow layer of seawater or freshwater.

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

mollusk
Noun

large phylum of invertebrate animal, all possessing a mantle with a significant cavity used for breathing and excretion, a radula (except for bivalves), and the structure of the nervous system. 

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

Red List
Noun

list defining the severity and causes of each species' threat of extinction. The Red List is maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Noun

base level for measuring elevations. Sea level is determined by measurements taken over a 19-year cycle.

Noun

area of land covered by shallow water or saturated by water.