The Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis ) is a species of large flamingo at 110–130 cm (43–51 in) closely related to the American flamingo and the greater flamingo, with which it was sometimes considered conspecific. The species is listed as near threatened by the IUCN. It breeds in South America from Ecuador and Peru to Chile and Argentina and east to Brazil; it has been introduced into the Netherlands. Like all flamingos, it lays a single chalky-white egg on a mud mound. These flamingos are mainly restricted to salt lagoons and soda lakes but these areas are vulnerable to habitat loss and water pollution.
The Chilean flamingos unique color of pink puts it amongst the most recognizable creatures in the world. Their large bill curves downwards, more than half of it being black in color. Their wings are narrow, and their flight feathers, both primary and secondary, are black, while their wing coverts are red. Another notable characteristic of the Chilean flamingo is the pink cap over its ankle joints. These joints are designed to assist the bird when it dips its head beneath the surface of the water to scoop up its food.
Chilean flamingos are native to the temperate part of South America from Ecuador and Peru to Chile and Argentina and east to Brazil. There are also some introduced colonies of Chilean flamingos in Germany, the Netherlands, Utah, and California. They inhabit muddy, shallow brackish, and alkaline lakes. Their range extends from sea level, along coastal areas, to high altitudes in the Andes, up to 4,500m.
Chilean flamingos are social, gregarious birds that nest and feed together in flocks numbering a few individuals up to tens of thousands. They are diurnal animals and they spend about 15 to 30% of the day preening, which is important for all birds in order to keep feathers waterproof as well as in good flying condition. In the daytime, flamingos are found on the edges of lakes and rivers, while during the night, they are found in the long grass. Groups when migrating fly in skeins in a V-formation, their long necks and legs stretched straight out. During the flight, they communicate with loud, goose-like sounds, which are important to keep the flock together. Flamingos stand on one leg in order to conserve body heat and pull the other leg in close to their body, tucking their head under their wing.
Chilean flamingos are serially monogamous and pairs stay together for a season. They breed in colonies numbering up to thousands of birds, and mate from April to May, after courtship rituals involving synchronized dancing, neck stretching preening, and honking. Even though typically they are non-territorial, they defend their nest during the breeding season. Males and females both build cone-shaped mound out of stones and mud. A white egg is laid, and both parents incubate it for about 26 to 31 days. The chick remains in the nest after hatching for the first few days. The young move after 5 to 8 days into large crèches of as many as 30,000 birds. 7 to 10 days later the young begin to show typical feeding actions in water and they can run fast, but their parents still feed them with "crop milk", which is a substance that comes from their upper digestive tract. They distinguish their offspring from other birds in the crèche by means of individual calls. Feeding by the parents continues until fledging, 65 to 70 days after birth. The chick becomes mature within 3 to 5 years.
Chilean flamingos are under threat from illegal egg-collecting, as well as loss of habitat due to human activity, such as agriculture, tourism, mining, and hunting.
According to the IUCN Red List, the Chilean flamingo population is around 300,000 individuals. IUCN reporting a decreasing population trend for this species and it is classified as near threatened (NT).
In their alkaline aquatic system, Chilean flamingos have a place at the top of the food chain, controlling the populations of prey items that they consume.