Flamingo, common name for the four species of a family of birds having exceptionally long legs and long, highly flexible necks. Their relationship to other birds is uncertain; some evidence allies them with the herons and ibises, some with the ducks and geese; and there is fossil evidence suggesting a relationship to shorebirds. Their bills bend abruptly downward about midway; the upper mandible is narrow, and fits into the lower like the lid of a box. When they feed, flamingos dip the head under water and scoop backward with the head upside down. The edges of the bill have tiny narrow transverse plates called lamellae. The large fleshy tongue pressing against the inside of the bill strains the water out through the lamellae, leaving behind the small invertebrates and the vegetable matter upon which the bird feeds.
It has two rather different subspecies, one vivid red and the other paler. The first of these breeds in the Caribbean area, from Yucatán and the West Indies to the coast of northeastern South America. It breeds well in captivity, and the occasional flamingo seen north of Florida probably escaped from a zoo. The paler flamingo inhabits Eurasia, in the Mediterranean area and Africa, east to India. Males of both subspecies may reach 155 cm (61 in) in height. The greater flamingo breeds in standing water or on low islands in shallow ponds, salt pans, and lagoons, building a conical mound of mud topped by a slight depression in which the one egg (rarely two) is laid. The young are fed on regurgitated food for as long as 75 days, although they can feed for themselves after about 30 days.
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