Flamingos are among the most popular birds in the world, thanks to their iconic pink color.
However, did you know that not all of them have this blush-tint shade? So, do not be surprised when you spot a white flamingo looking your way.
This article will discuss white flamingos, also how their color changes over a lifetime, and other interesting facts.
Let’s get started!
Are There White Flamingos?
Yes, white flamingos exist, and they obtain their coloration either due to genetics or diet. In fact, all flamingos are white at one point in their lives.
Flamingo chicks are born with gray or white feathers, eventually transitioning to pink color in adulthood. Yet, some of these birds remain white their whole life, which can cause problems for such individuals.
Due to the lack of algae in the area, flamingos fail to consume enough carotenoids to retain their pink color. Their new feathers will grow into a paler shade of blush until it turns white.
There are rare instances where flamingos suffer from a genetic condition called albinism. In such cases, flamingos can consume all the brine shrimps they can get and still fail to turn their plumage pink.
The problem is hereditary and not with their diet. Despite that, white flamingos can be completely healthy, but they sometimes get misunderstood by potential mates as not.
Another disadvantage of being a white flamingo is an increased possibility of melanoma, a skin disease, for having low melanin. Flamingos love sun-basking, which can lead to health risks for such pale birds.
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Are Flamingos Born White?
Yes. As mentioned, flamingos are either born with white or gray feathers. Flamingo chicks will not immediately turn pink because they still rely on their parents’ crop milk.
After around 11 weeks, juveniles form their flight weathers and hookbills and get ready to start munching food on their own. Flamingos’ hookbills are crucial because it helps in filtering their food from non-edible bigger particles.
Using their curved beaks, flamingos suck the salt water. After, they tilt their head back to let the sediments settle.
These beautiful pink birds then strain the water using tooth-like ridges outside their bill, leaving the small food items in their mouth.
As long as the flamingo chicks maintain the beta carotene diet for at least two years, their feathers will start turning into different shades of pink.
It takes time because carotenoids build up in their bodies gradually, resulting in the growth of brightly-colored feathers.
Why Do Pink Flamingos Turn White?
Flamingos’ plumage turns white because of a lack of algae in the area. There might be a shortage in the vicinity because of seasonal change or habitat loss, and it might also indicate a decline in the bird’s health.
Thanks to their diet, flamingos’ feathers grow to the shade of pink. Their diet consists of brine shrimps, crustaceans, and algae, all rich in beta carotene (carotenoids).
By consuming the food, the bird’s digestive system breaks down the carotenoids, which the liver fats absorb. After, it will be deposited on the flamingos’ feathers and skin, creating the iconic pink color.
So, if you spot a white adult flamingo, it most likely suffers from beta carotene deficiency. However, it does not mean that they are unhealthy either.
Another possible reason is that the flamingo might have trouble filtering brine shrimps from the mud, failing to consume the recommended amount of food intake.
Fortunately, these filter feeders have other food sources, such as fly larvae.
Flamingos in captivity may also experience their feathers turning pale. Each zoo and captivity have its diet formula for these birds, though most of them serve flamingos with pellets.
These pellets contain all the necessary nutrients and vitamins to keep the flamingos healthy. However, it does not ensures that the famous pink color is retained.
Some zoos with a budget will try to retain the original diet by serving their flamingos with krill and brine shrimps to help maintain the growth of pink feathers.
As mentioned, the white-colored feathers may be attributed to the change in habitat. Algae thrive during the warm season, so it follows that there is a decrease in algae during the chillier months.
As a result, some of these long-legged pink bird species, such as the greater flamingo, start looking paler as the colder months enter.
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What Colors Can Flamingos Be?
Flamingos’ color ranges from pale white to the darkest shade of rouge. The intensity of their color depends on their beta carotene diet. The more carotenoids flamingos eat, the deeper their pink color is.
After their body absorbs the beta carotene, it diffuses on the flamingo’s bodies, causing pink, red, and orange-tinted plumage. So, it is no surprise when you spot flamingos having inconsistent colors with each other.
Evidently, species of flamingos found in the Caribbean have brighter and more vivid pink colors than those in drier locations, thanks to the presence of more algae.
Although the color does not immediately reflect the overall health of the flamingo, it can explain their personality. A study from the University of Exeter provides that pinkier flamingos are more aggressive than paler ones when competing for food.
Flamingos with bright pink coloration tend to have a superiority complex as they exhibit better health, making them more desirable mates. It also shows that they are efficient eaters, able to filter their small food from other debris.
Having a better diet means they have more energy than pale-colored flamingos. It translates to them being powerful, capable of shoving the white ones around.
Another color that flamingos can be is gray, which is prominent during the bird’s juvenile stage.
Related: Are Flamingos Dangerous to Humans?
What’s the Purpose of Having Pink Plumage for Flamingos?
The flamingo’s typical pink plumage has two purposes:
- Reproduction signals
- Food signals
A 2017 study published by Nova publishers discussed the functions of having pink feathers. The first function is to appear as a parent material to any potential mate.
Basically, the pinkier the plumage means better parental capability.
It signals to other flamingos that it feeds itself well and can provide crop milk to its younglings.
The second function of the pinks feathers is to show that this feeder knows where are the best foraging spots for brine shrimps, considering that the changing season affects the population of algae.
Unfortunately, these reasons made it hard for white flamingos to look for a mate. Not only that, their families and social circles might reject them.
With this, we conclude our article on white flamingos.
Hopefully, the article was helpful yet fun to read. Next time you spot a pale flamingo, you’ll be able to explain to your friends the possible reasons behind it.
Thank you for reading. If you liked this article, here’s another popular flamingo topic: Pet Flamingos.