Why Are Flamingos Pink?

Flamingos get their distinctive pinkish-orangish color from the foods they eat. Most of a flamingo's diet is made up of foods with high levels of carotenoid pigments, so the bird's feathers, legs and even beak take on the same tone. Incidentally, the same thing happens to humans who consume lots of foods with a lot of carotenoid pigments, such as carrots — their skin turns slightly orange.

More about flamingos and coloration:

  • In humans, skin color can also become unusually yellow, in the case of jaundice; or even blue, in the case of argyria, a condition usually caused by over-exposure to silver. Jaundice is treatable and reversible, but people who have argyria usually have blue skin for the rest of their lives.

  • Animals that can change their color often do so by using chromatophores, special cells through which pigment can be moved. Chromatophores also include reflective plates that the animal can position to change color. Animals that use chromatophores include chameleons, cuttlefish and some frogs, among others.

  • When flamingos are born, their feathers are actually gray, and their beaks and legs are pink. They start getting adult beak and leg coloration within a week, and their feathers change soon after that.

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