About the American Flamingo’s Habitat and Lifecycle
If you were a fan of the 1980’s cop show, Miami Vice, then you might be under the mistaken impression the American flamingo’s habitat is in the Florida Everglades. The introduction to the show, you might remember depicts these birds standing in a shallow marshland. The American flamingo, however, is indigenous to the islands of the Caribbean, from Haiti to Turks Island. You can find it as far south as Brazil and even on the other side of the Americas in the Galapagos Islands.
All this is not to say that there are no Pink Flamingos in Florida. In fact, you will find several groups of them in the marshy waters outside of Miami. Generally, however, experts believe that these flamingos are on the lamb from zoos or the pet trade. Like alligators, flamingos are a popular if somewhat unwise choice for pets in the idiosyncratic households in Florida.
Birth and Early Life
The American flamingo begins life as a single egg planted along the banks of the flamingo’s habitat. The flamingo lays it egg between mid spring and deep summer in the northern hemisphere. Unlike other birds, this long-lived bird (it can live up to forty years) does not lay multiple eggs at the same time. Instead, it puts all its hopes on one egg at time. For about a month, the egg’s parents will vigilantly guard the egg and work as a team to make sure that their precious progeny will incubate properly.
After a moon cycle has come and gone, the egg has finally reached the point of hatching. The egg cracks and out comes a creature that at first seems not to resemble the bright pink feathers of its watchful guardians. Instead, the small bird has dull gray down feathers. Even as it learns to walk and is fed by its parents, it still doesn’t quite resemble these grand creatures that protect it.
For two full calendar years, the flamingo chick will continue to sport this unattractive coat. Then, at around the beginning of its third year, it doffs these drab old down feathers, and slowly dons the bright pink feathers of its parents. In the wild, a healthy flamingo will have bright pink feathers.
The young flamingo, however, will not yet have reached sexual maturity in its third year and will continue to stay close to its mother, still learning to feed and survive under the protective wing of its parent. Only in the sixth year do flamingos declare their independence from their parents and strike out on their own.
The Mating Dance of Flamingos
As you may already know, birds throughout the world have odd mating displays. Flamingos are no exception. If you happen to be around at the right time in the flamingo’s habitat, you might be lucky enough to witness the odd mating promenade that takes place there every year in the spring. The flamingos will gather in a large group in their shallow marshland and begin to move as a unit around the area. As they go, they will puff their chests, and lift their heads to show off as much of their pink elegance as possible. They hold their heads high in the air turning their beaks back and forth, surreptitiously checking each other out.
What makes a flamingo hot to another flamingo? Lot’s of bright pink, because that means this mate knows how to feed itself well. White or pale pink in the mating language of flamingos are signs of either sickness or lack of adequate nutrition.
After this sexual promenade around the flamingo’s habitat, the excited birds pair off and go make more flamingos. It won’t be long before another gray little alien pops from his egg to a strange world where these four-foot tall, long legged pink creatures will initiate their little guest in the ways of the flamingos.