By: Efraim Harari
Flamingos are tall, elegant, beautifully colored birds that live and feed in shallow waters. While there are six different species of flamingos, the general anatomy of them all is basically the same: long legs, long neck, curved bill, webbed feet, yellow eyes, and, of course, a colorful plumage. (Plumage is the layer of feathers that cover a bird’s body).
Colors of theflamingo’s plumage include various shades of pink, crimson red, shades of orange, and mixtures of cream and white. The coloring of the flamingo is not specific to a particular species of the bird. Rather, the colors come from the rich sources of beta carotene found in the food flamingos consume, such as algae and small crustaceans.
These graceful birds usually inhabit warm areas, but they can also live in cold regions.
As long as they have plenty of room to roam and access to water and food, flamingos cansurvive in almost any environment. They can be found living in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Flamingos enjoy regions that have muddy, alkaline waters (waters with high concentrations of sodium chloride and other dissolved salts), such as lakes, swamps, and marshes filled with small insects, algae, and crustaceans. Alkaline waters are too salty and caustic for most other creatures, which works out to be quite beneficial for the flamingos, as it keeps them safe from many potential predators.
The flamingo’s body is well-equipped for its watery environment. Its webbed feet helps the flamingo to wade through the muddy waters in search of food; its tall, thin legs enable it to keep its body dry while in the water; and with its long neck, the flamingo can bend all the way downward, so that its head and bill can easily reach the bottom of the shallow waters. A flamingo is also able to hold its breath for several minutes at a time while its head is under the water, looking for food.
Flamingos are very social birds, and they like to congregate in large groups. It is not uncommon to see thousands or even tens of thousands of flamingos living together in one colony. In fact, East Africa is home to the largest known flamingo colony in the world – with over one million flamingos!
Flamingos can live up to fifty years in captivity and up to thirty years in the wild.
The greater flamingo is the largest of all flamingos. The male great flamingo can grow as tall as sixty inches, yet amazingly, only weigh a mere eight pounds. Its feathers range in color from dark pink to bright red, with areas of white blending in with the other parts.
During the colder times of the year, many of the great flamingos that inhabit Asia migrate to warmer climates. They usually travel to Iran or India. However, they won’t migrate until the weather actually turns cold, so if the season happens to be unusually mild, they may not end up migrating at all.
The flamingo has a very distinctive way of feeding – it eats upside down! When feeding, the flamingo thrusts its head into the water in an upside-down position. This helps the flamingo scoop up beak-fulls of mud with its bill. Then the bird filters out the mud and water through the comb-like arrangement it has in its bill (called lamellae), thus retaining only what is edible.
Another interesting aspect regarding the flamingo’s eatinghabits is the fact that these birds get their famous pink or orange color from the food they eat. If a flamingo is in a zoo, the zookeepers must make sure to give it food that contains plenty of carotene, or it will lose its color. This shows us that truly, “you are what you eat!”
We, too, need to be careful about what we put in our bodies. We need to filter out anything that could harm our body – both physically and spiritually. That is why when we eat kosher food, we are not only doing a mitzvah, we are also building our bodies out of “mitzvah material.”
An additional important lesson that can be learned by observing the flamingo eating is the usage of its tongue. Unlike most other birds, the flamingo has a large, soft, fleshy tongue, which it uses as a powerful pump. The tongue moves rapidly back and forth, drawing water on the backward pull and expelling it on the forward drive, in this way enabling the flamingo to strain its food through the beak’s “filters,” as mentioned above.
In the animal world, thetongue has a vitally important function in the feeding process. In the human race, the tongue is primarily identified with speech. A human being is expected to use this great Divine gift wisely and carefully, to speak only what is true and kind, while “filtering out” and guarding our tongue from speaking falsehoods, unkind words, and idle gossip.
The smallest species of all flamingos is the lesser flamingo. It is about three feet tall and weighs around four pounds. However, it is also the most numerous of all flamingos. It is estimated that about five million lesser flamingos inhabit the earth.
Lesser flamingos’ plumage is usually light pink and white
in color. It is quite rare to see a red or orange-colored lesser flamingo.
If you have ever seen a flamingo exhibit while visiting your local zoo, you most likely have seen lesser flamingos. Since lesser flamingos are generally calm and gentle and adapt well, they are the ones that are usually found in zoo settings. In the wild, lesser flamingos are mainly found in Africa and Asia.
Head, Shoulders, Wings, and Toes….
The neck of the flamingo is very flexible, which allows the flamingo to bend downward to eat and backward to preen its feathers. The flamingo has nineteen vertebrae in its neck, which is why it has such a wide range of movement in it.
The wings of the flamingo are made up of delicate feathersthat keep the flamingo warm, as well as helping it swim and fly. Flamingos are very good swimmers, and they are able to fly as fast as 37 mph.
The webbed feet of a flamingo allows it to stand steadily in the mud-filled waters without losing its balance. Webbed feet also help the flamingo swim easily.