The rarest species of the flamingo family, the James's flamingo is a sympatric bird, meaning that it can be found amongst flocks of the Chilean and Andean flamingos. It was thought that the James's flamingo was extinct, up until the 1950s, but then a small flock was discovered in a remote location. This bird has an oval body with pinkish-white feathers, black flight feathers and shoulder feathers that are bright red and elongated. In the mating season, adults develop pinkish-red streaks on their breast. James's flamingo is unique among flamingos because it has no hind toe, and it also has a shorter bill than other flamingos.
James's flamingo occupies the high altitudes of Andean plateaus of Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. It inhabits highland salt lakes with soft substrate and relatively sparse vegetation. It breeds on islets or islands of sand or soft clay, and along the shores of salt lakes.
The James's flamingo lives in colonies, often numbering thousands. These huge groups of birds march together, often in a tightly-packed flock. They are diurnal birds and spend most of their time feeding, preening and resting. Their migration is not well understood, but it is known that flocks leave breeding grounds in higher altitudes when summer ends, possibly to move down to lower altitudes. Nonetheless, some birds stay at the breeding site, the hot springs within the area preventing the lakes from freezing during the cold weather. Jamess flamingos are noisy when in a flock, the voice being important for parents and chicks to be able to recognize each other. Several different calls are made, from the low gabbling sounds when feeding to nasal honking when in flight.
James's flamingos are monogamous and form strong pairs that may last for many years. They usually engage in collective displays with a series of ritualized movements and postures. During such displays their pair-bonds are formed. The mating season is from January to March. These flamingos nest in large colonies, often together with other South American flamingos. The parents build the nest together and a single egg is laid. Incubation starts immediately, is shared by both parents and lasts 27 to 31 days. Once the chick first hatches, it is fed "crop milk", which is from the upper digestive tract of the parents. When chicks are able to walk, they join together in crèches, watched over by several adult birds. When it is three months old, the chick can survive independently without help from the parents. Young flamingos reach sexual maturity within about 3 to 4 years and develop full adult plumage.
The biggest threat to James's flamingos is destruction of their habitat by humans. Environmental threats like heavy rainfall may affect the breeding of this species. Anything that threatens the abundance of their food source threatens James's flamingos.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total James’s flamingo population is about 106,000 individuals. This species is classified as near threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List but its population is stable currently.
James's flamingos have an impact on the populations of aquatic algae and diatoms in the lakes where they live. In areas where there is a dense population of flamingos, there is an increase in competition, and the available food diminishes more quickly. James's flamingos assist in wetland conservation through their habitual use of such areas, continually stirring up sediment and fertilizing the area with their waste products.