Published on Aug 28, 2020

Flamingo Background Images

License Info: Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC

It would seem to make sense to answer the question “Why are flamingos pink?” with “That’s just the way it is”. Elephants are gray, canaries are yellow, so why shouldn’t flamingos be pink? Well, there actually is a very good reason.

First of all, young flamingos are not pink, they are gray (like an elephant) for about the first three years of life, after which they turn pink. Not all adult flamingos are pink either, though most are either pink or a shade of red close to pink. Of the five species of flamingo in existence, the Caribbean flamingo, is actually a very bright crimson red. In general, adult flamingos are either red, pink, or somewhere in between. That still begs the question however, “Why are Flamingos Pink”.

Genetics would seem to be the obvious answer, but it is not the right one. There’s the old saying “You are what you eat”, and flamingos are pink because of their diet. If you place a flamingo in captivity, and give it something to eat instead of its usual diet, the bird will so start to lose its coloring, and eventually become more white than pink. The fact that we don’t see more white flamingos in zoos is because the zookeepers are careful to give the flamingos a special flamingo food, containing all the nutrients they would get in their natural habitats.


A flamingo’s diet is high in beta-carotene, the same substance we ingest when we eat carrots. Among other things, flamingos eat crustaceans, particularly shrimp. Their natural habitat is in shallow lakes and wetlands, where shrimp tend to thrive. Flamingos also eat algae, another source of beta-carotine and carotenoid pigments (red). When you think of it, someone who likes carrots and eats several a day can take on a slightly orange hue to their complexion. That actually happens, and is not unhealthy though it may look so.

Now when someone asks you “Why are flamingos pink?”, you can truthfully say that it’s because they eat shrimp. You can go into some detail with the cartenoid bit if you wish, but for our purposes, just saying shrimp should suffice. Then if you’re pressed, you can mention cartenoids and beta-carotine, as if that’s something everyone should already know!

If the person still doesn’t believe your answer, you can tell them that flamingos also fly and march, two more facts about flamingos that definitely are true. We’re so used to seeing flamingos in the zoo just standing on one leg (it’s the most comfortable way for them to stand), or as lawn ornaments in the neighborhood, we forget that they are quite capable of flight, and in fact fly from one place to another in huge flocks. Insofar as marching is concerned, if you see a group (actually a colony) of flamingos on the ground, and watch them over a period of time, you’ll eventually see them march. You’ll know it when you see it.

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