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The Caribbean flamingo, or Phoenicopterus ruber, is one of the largest and the most brightly colored flamingo species. They live near saltwater lakes and lagoons throughout the Caribbean region, feeding on crustaceans and algae. Flamingos gather in large groups when feeding, flying and during mating season. Females lay one egg at a time and both parents participate in caring for their young. With very few predators in their remote habitat, flamingos typically live to be 20 to 30 years old.
The average weight of a Caribbean flamingo ranges between 4.2 and 6.6 lbs. (1.9 to 3 kg). They measure between 31 and 57 inches (80 to 145 cm) in height, with long legs for wading and long necks for reaching down into the water to feed. Their vibrant orange, pink and red plumage comes from their particular diet that is rich in carotenoids. Without it, their feathers would be white.
The natural range of the Caribbean flamingo includes the Mexican Yucatan, West Indies, Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands and the northern region of South America. They're also occasionally found along the southeastern coast of the United States. They stay near shallow waters, often in isolated areas, which gives them less competition with other species for food and protection from predators.
Flamingos lower their heads and stick their bills into the water upside down to scoop up mouthfuls of it. The small, brushlike structures inside their bills, called lamellae, sift out the mud and water, leaving behind algae, mollusks and shrimp for the birds to eat. When food sources are depleted in one area, the flamingos leave as a group to find another feeding ground. They run a few steps along the ground toward the wind before taking off into the air.
Elaborate and coordinated displays take place during the mating season. Large groups come together and march, wag their heads and salute with their wings in unison. They use their bills to build mounds of mud, which become the nests for their eggs.
Both parents help care for their chick once the egg hatches after an incubation period of 27 to 31 days. The chicks are born with gray feathers, which begin to change color when they're around 2 years old. The parents both produce the crop milk that serves as the chick's main source of food. The chicks remain in the nest for up to 12 days.
The Caribbean flamingo can live up to 50 or 60 years in captivity, but the average lifespan in the wild is around 30. Adult flamingos are rarely preyed upon, although humans sometimes hunt them for their feathers. With an abundant food supply and widespread habitat, their population numbers have remained steady.
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