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The fire bird of the tropics
By: psilo 
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Flamingoes are very specialist feeders but different species will eat different diets. By doing this different species can feed side by side without competing with each other. Flamingos feed on tiny organisms either animal or vegetable matter which they filter out of mud or water. The tongue acts as a piston. It sucks water into the beak and then forces it out so that food items are trapped against filters along the edge of the beak. The upper mandible is larger than the lower, but lightweight, and acts like a float, keeping the head at just the right level to allow the bill to sieve the top three centimetres of water. They feed during the day and the night and can filter as many as 20 beakfuls of algae-rich water in a single second. The pink and red colours on the flamingoes feathers come from carotene which is present in the shrimp and algae that they eat. At Martinmere special pellets have to be fed to the flamingoes that contain this so that the pink colour is present in their feathers.
Even though flamingoes can withstand pH levels as high as 10.5, the skin underneath their feathers needs an occasional rinsing in clean water, which generally has a neutral pH of 7. Natural freshwater supplies can often be found close by and this is important for drinking and bathing in. If the birds do not wash the soda off their feathers then it can collect and prevent them from flying.
Flamingoes do not tend to breed during particular months but instead breeding is dependant upon the available supplies of water and food. A flamingo reaches sexual maturity at around 4-5 years and will form a long term pair bond with its mate. Even though this occurs though it is still thought that extra mating goes on with other pairs involved. Also even when maturity is reached the flamingo does not breed every year.
Nests are constructed of mud, 25 cm high and 35-40 cm across. The female lays one egg, which she and the male incubate for one month. During incubation, flamingos straddle the nest, placing their long legs on either side of it. The egg is elongate, chalky white and the yolk is blood red.
At Martinmere this summer only one of the Greater flamingoes bred and managed to raise its chick. The Andean flamingoes didnt produce any and I thought that they werent going to. Imagine my surprise therefore when I visited last month (early September) and found that they had just started nesting. The flamingo opposite is one of those flamingoes. The adult flamingoes are taken inside during the winter months because they cannot tolerate our winter temperatures so hopefully the young ones will have grown some by then.

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