Phoenicopterus ruber (Greater flamingo) 

Grootflamink [Afrikaans]; uKholwase, uNondwebu [Zulu]; Flamingo [Dutch]; Flamant rose [French]; Flamingo [German]; Flamingo-comum [Portuguese]

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Phoenicopterus ruber (Greater flamingo)  Phoenicopterus ruber (Greater flamingo) 

Greater flamingo, Strandfontein Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Greater flamingo, Strandfontein Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ©]

Phoenicopterus ruber (Greater flamingo) 

Greater flamingos. [photo Jeff Poklen ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs from Pakistan and India to southern Europe, south through the Arabian Peninsula and Iran to sub-Saharan Africa. In southern Africa, it is locally abundant along the coast of Mozambique, in southern Zimbabwe, central and southern Botswana, northern and western Namibia and central and south-western South Africa. It generally prefers coastal mudflats, inland dams, sewage treatment works, small temporary pans and river mouths, while it exclusively breeds at recently flooded, large eutrophic shallow salt pans.

Distribution of Greater flamingo in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Little known, although it is thought that it moves at night when heavy rainfall causes the pan to flood. If this happens in Namibia, it tends to head north before heading inland to the Etosha Pan. There is also evidence to suggest that it migrates from East Africa to southern Africa, especially to the Sua Pan of Botswana.


It mainly eats small invertebrates, such as brine shrimps (Artemia), brine flies (Ephydra), molluscs and diatoms, foraging by holding its bill upside down in waist-high water. Its large tongue pumps water in and out, while small filaments at the edge of its bill filter out food.


  • Monogamous, although it changes its mate each breeding season, breeding in colonies with hundreds to thousands of nests. Hundreds of them perform a spectacular courtship display in which they march in the same direction while flapping their wings and outstretching their necks.
  • The nest is built mainly by the male at first, while the female starts to assist him in the run up to the egg-laying season. It consists of a mound of dry or damp mud, with a shallow depression in the centre, about 15-45 cm high. It is often built on top of an older nest.
  • Egg-laying season starts in November, peaking from January-February, although egg-laying may continue in waves until August.
  • It lays a single egg, rarely two, which is incubated by both sexes for roughly 27-31 days.
  • The chicks are brooded for the first 3-4 days of their lives, leaving the nest at 5-10 days old to join a crèche along with other Lesser and Greater flamingos of similar age. It is fed by both parents with a glandular secretion, taking its first flight at about 75-80 days old.


Not threatened globally, although Near-threatened in South Africa and Vulnerable in Namibia, largely due to lowering water tables at major breeding sites and collision with powerlines.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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