• 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?

      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?

      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?

      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!

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    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.

    diet Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: diet
    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    estuary Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: estuary
    habitat Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    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.

    marsh Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: marsh
    migration 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. 

    pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: pollution
    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).

    sea level Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: sea level
    wetland Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: wetland