Why Do Flamingos Have Pink Feathers?

While we were at the Wonderopolis beach the other day, we overheard an interesting conversation between a seagull and a pelican:

Seagull: Hey Pete! What are you up to?

Pelican: Howdy Steve! I was just observing Frank the flamingo fishing over there.

Seagull: He doesn’t seem to be catching many fish.

Pelican: Why do you think so?

Seagull: Look at his face. It’s pink! He must feel ashamed of being such a poor fisherman.

Pelican: Actually, he’s pink because he’s an excellent fisherman! Although he’s not necessarily catching fish…

Seagull: How so?

Pelican: Let me explain…

The pelican proceeded to explain to the seagull why flamingos have pink feathers. We will summarize what we learned for you here.

With their vibrant pink and orange plumage that resembles a sunset, flamingos are among the most stylish birds in the avian world. However, they were not born that way! Baby flamingos are actually born with gray feathers.

Their unique pink color develops over time due to their selective diet. What do flamingos eat? A flamingo’s diet mainly consists of aquatic organisms, such as shrimp and algae, which are rich in pigments called carotenoids.

Carotenoids are the same pigments that cause shrimp to turn from gray to pink when they are cooked. Carotenoids are crucial for maintaining the flamingo’s distinctive color. If a flamingo were to follow a meal plan similar to other birds that feed on insects, seeds, or berries, its feathers would eventually turn white or a pale pink.

Although algae may not be at the top of your family’s shopping list, humans also consume foods that are high in carotenoids. These pigments are responsible for the red, yellow, and orange colors found in many fruits and vegetables that we enjoy, such as carrots, apricots, squash, mangoes, and sweet potatoes. However, thanks to a diverse and balanced diet, we can enjoy these carotenoid-rich foods without having to worry about our skin changing color overnight.

Give It a Try

We hope you enjoyed our very first Wonder of the Day! Make sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

Have you ever been told that you are what you eat? If that statement held true, what type of food would you be? Perhaps a pizza, some crackers, or chicken nuggets? Or maybe you would be an apple or some broccoli? Let your imagination wander and envision what life would be like if you were similar to a flamingo. If your diet had the power to change your skin color, what hue would you possess? Compose a short poem or story that depicts how life would differ if your food choices dictated your color transformation!

Take a moment to explore the Houston Zoo’s Flamingo Cam and observe the activities of these aquatic birds in real-time. Keep a keen eye out, and you might even catch a glimpse of other bird species. No need for binoculars – simply spread your wings and click to witness the live spectacle of the flamingo flock!

Now, put yourself in the feathers of a young flamingo. As a newborn, your plumage is gray. However, as you grow older, you notice that your feathers are gradually being replaced by a delicate shade of pink. What could be causing this change? Is it natural? Do you feel concerned or do you actually prefer your newfound pink feathers? Pen a short story from the perspective of a young flamingo experiencing the transition into its pink plumage. How do you personally feel about your evolving color? Share your story with a friend or family member and inquire about their thoughts on how a young flamingo might perceive its changing appearance.

Sources of wonder:

– http://www.sciencefocus.com/qa/why-are-flamingos-pink (accessed 16 Jan. 2020)

– http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingswork/f/why-are-flamingos-pink.htm (accessed 16 Jan. 2020)


1. Why are flamingos pink?

Flamingos get their pink color from their diet. They eat a lot of shrimp and other small organisms that contain pigments called carotenoids. These pigments are broken down in the flamingos’ digestive system and absorbed into their bloodstream. The carotenoids then get deposited in the flamingos’ feathers, skin, and even their beaks. The more carotenoids they consume, the brighter their pink color becomes. Interestingly, flamingos that are not fed a diet rich in carotenoids will lose their pink color over time and turn white or pale gray.

2. Do all flamingos have the same shade of pink?

No, not all flamingos have the same shade of pink. The exact shade can vary depending on several factors, including the species of flamingo, their age, and their diet. Different species of flamingos have different levels of carotenoids in their diet, which can affect the intensity of their pink color. Additionally, younger flamingos may have a lighter shade of pink compared to older ones. Flamingos that have access to a diet rich in carotenoids will have a brighter and more vibrant pink color compared to those that have limited access to these pigments.

3. Can flamingos change their color?

Yes, flamingos can change their color to some extent. As mentioned earlier, their diet plays a crucial role in determining the color of their feathers, skin, and beaks. If a flamingo is fed a diet that lacks carotenoids, their color will gradually fade, and they may turn white or pale gray. On the other hand, if they are provided with a diet rich in carotenoids, their color will become more vibrant and intense. However, it’s important to note that flamingos cannot change their color instantly or drastically. It is a gradual process that occurs over time.

4. Are all flamingos born pink?

No, all flamingos are not born pink. When flamingos hatch from their eggs, they have gray or white feathers, which gradually turn pink as they grow older. The pink color is acquired through their diet, as they start consuming carotenoid-rich foods like shrimp and algae. As the flamingos continue to eat these pigments, their feathers and skin gradually take on a pink hue. It takes several months for flamingos to develop their iconic pink color, and the intensity of the pink can vary depending on their diet and other factors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *