• The American flamingo, also known as the Caribbean flamingo, is the only species of flamingo native to North America. These flamingos live around brackish 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
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation
    anatomy Noun

    structure of an organism.

    animal migration Noun

    process where a community of animals leaves a habitat for part of the year or part of their lives, and moves to habitats that are more hospitable.

    coastline Noun

    outer boundary of a shore.

    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.

    wetland Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: wetland