The bill of the Greater Flamingo is a marvel of nature that would make any baleen whale turn pale with envy. Indeed, they are the avian equivalent to baleen whales, feeding exclusively on brine shrimp and blue-green algae using their highly specialized bills as filter devices.
The long legs and neck allow them to feed near the ground in relatively deep water or near the water surface, depending on where the largest concentration of food is found.  When feeding, the bill is held downwards, which puts the bent tip of the bill in a horizontal position. This upside-down way of using their bill is another unique feature of the flamingos. Water is then sucked into the mouth at the tip section of the bill through a grid of lamellae positioned along the mandibles. This grid keeps the fat chunks of dirt from entering the mouth. The large tongue with its rough surface then picks the food out of the muddy water, which is then pressed out near the corner of the bill.  A small pouch below the bill provides the suction and the pressure which is necessary to move the water in and out of the bill.

I frankly suspect that a significant amount of black magic is employed in their feeding method as well. I really don’t see how they can separate microscopically small algae and equally-sized shrimps from mud particles unless their tongue can scan each particle for life forms. But allegedly, apparently, that’s what they can do, and have been doing quite successfully for the last 40-something Million years.  So I guess I’ll believe it. You can see the bill in action on the following images, taken in the Camargue, southern France, in January 2013.

 

flamingo feeding 1

 

flamingo feeding 2

 

juvenile flamingo feeding 3

bill structures of flamingo 4

This Greater Flamingo shows off its lamellae which line the upper mandible and which help in separating the food from the mud

Having such a specialized bill that is adapted to be used upside-down has its downsides when worn downside-up, when the bird is holding its head upright. Luckily they wear their specialized tools with the same pride as the skimmer, giving them a hue of professionality and supremacy. Because if they weren’t, we might consider them odd in a peculiar way.

flamingo portrait 1

flamingo portrait 2

here s looking at you

flamingos never snack

And this is why flamingos never snack before an important date

 

pinkweeklogoIt is Pink Bird Weekend on 10,000 Birds! Whether we are discussing birds shaded roseate, fuchsia, rose, coral, salmon, blush, or just plain pink, we have them all covered on Pink Bird Weekend. Why would we bother with such an esoteric topic? To put it simply, pink birds are awesome! Think about it, have you ever seen a pink bird and not wanted to see it again? Of course not! Make sure to check back all Pink Bird Weekend long as we delve into every possible pulchritudinous pink bird we can think of…

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Written by Jochen
Jochen Roeder was born in Germany and raised to be a birder. He also spent a number of years abroad, just so he could see more birds. One of his most astounding achievements is the comprehension that Yellow-crowned Night-herons do not exist, as he failed to see any despite birding in North America for more than two years. He currently lives near Heidelberg, one of the most boring places for a birder to live, a fact about which he likes to whinge a lot. When he is not birding or trying to convince his young son that patiently scanning some fields for migrants is more fun than working the jungle gym of a playground, he enjoys contemplating the reasoning behind the common names of birds. He first became famous in the bird blog world on Bell Tower Birding.