Out of the worlds six species of flamingo, Greater flamingos are the most widespread and common member of the flamingo family. Greater flamingos have an attractive coloration and appearance. Their feathers are pinkish/white, the wing coverts are red and the primary and secondary flight feathers are black. They have long pink bills with a black tip, yellow eyes and long pink legs. The male is bigger than the female, and juveniles have a gray-brown coloration, with some pink on their underparts, tail and wings, with the legs and beak being mainly brown.
The Greater flamingo inhabits Africa, the Middle East, southern Europe, and Indian subcontinent. They occur in relatively shallow water bodies, such as saline lagoons, salt pans, large alkaline or saline lakes, and estuaries. Breeding takes place on sandbanks, mudflats, sandy or rocky islands or open beaches.
Greater flamingos are very social. They travel in groups numbering up to thousands and they communicate by using visual and auditory cues. Greater flamingos are partially dispersive and migratory. They are traveling constantly, seeking areas with enough resources to sustain the whole flock, especially during the mating season. Greater flamingos keep their chicks together in crèches. Adults supervising crèches tend to act in a hostile way towards hatchlings if their own young are not in that crèche. Greater flamingos are diurnal, feeding during the day. Being bottom feeders, they rely on water levels that are low, and they move to new areas to find appropriate feeding conditions. They often bathe in fresh shallow water and preen their feathers to remove salt from them. They are not territorial birds but during breeding season they do defend their nests.
Greater flamingos are omnivores, eating crustaceans, mollusks, worms, crabs, insects, and sometimes small fish. They also feed on plant material, including shoots and grass seeds, decaying leaves, and algae, sometimes even ingesting mud to extract any organic matter it contains.
Greater flamingos are monogamous birds, forming strong pair bonds. They breed in dense colonies numbering up to 20,000 or more pairs. They perform spectacular group displays of courtship, involving ritualized preening, synchronized wing-raising, and head-flagging, where they raise their necks and beaks and turn their heads from side to side. Breeding seasons vary with location, occurring in some areas at irregular intervals, following the rains. Nest-building is done in pairs. A single chalky-white egg is laid, rarely two. Both parents share the incubation of 27-31 days. After several days of being brooded by both parents, the chick joins a crèche with many other chicks. Both parents feed the chick, with the typical milk that is secreted in the adults upper digestive tract. Chicks fledges between 65 and 90 days after hatching and reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 4 to 6 years.
Greater flamingos are threatened by human disturbance and lowering water levels, which increases the salinity of sites where they feed and so can affect food resources, or cause thick soda deposits which can harm the legs of chicks. The potential effects of climate change on rainfall and sea level may therefore impact breeding sites seriously in the future. Further threats to greater flamingos include disease, pollution, lead poisoning (from the ingesting of lead shot), and habitat loss as a result of industrial and harbor development or drainage of the wetlands for agriculture. Large numbers of greater flamingos in Egypt are shot or captured for sale in markets, and the collection of eggs remains a threat in some areas, such as in Algeria.
According to IUCN Red List, the overall population of Greater flamingo is increasing and estimated at 550,000-680,000 individuals. The Palearctic population (including West Africa, Iran and Kazakhstan) estimated to be between 205,000 and 320,000 birds; the South West and South Asian populations - 240,000 birds; the sub-Saharan African populations - between 100,000 and 120,000 birds. The Palearctic population seems to be increasing, while the sub-Saharan African and Asian populations seem to be stable.