It is thought that flamingos, along with other long-legged wading birds like herons and storks, originated about 30 million years ago before many other avian orders had evolved. Fossils show that flamingos have not had any significant changes in their evolution since then. The earliest flamingo fossils were found in Sweden, which predated the fossils of herons found in England and North America as well as storks in England and France by five million years. Fossilized flamingo footprints, estimated to be seven million years old, were also found in the Andes Mountains. There are five species of flamingos. All the species live in tropical and subtropical climates. There are two subspecies of the greater flamingo (the largest of the flamingo that has deep, pink-colored wings) and the Caribbean flamingo (slightly smaller than the greater flamingo and is crimson or vermilion). The lesser flamingo is the smallest of flamingos with color that is brighter than greater flamingos. The Chilean flamingo is slightly smaller than the Caribbean flamingo and has gray legs with pink at the joints. The Andean flamingo has yellow legs and feet and a red spot between the nostrils. The James’s flamingo has all black feathers, including the secondary feathers that are usually red in other species. The word flamingo comes from the Latin word flama for flame and is based on the Portuguese word flamengo for “flame-colored.” The color in their feathers is due to eating carotenoid pigments in their food such as the shells of crustaceans and algae. A flamingo that is pale pink or nearly white may be ill.
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