Sunday, September 29, 2019

Flamingo feeding in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Flamingo beaks have mystified scientists for 2,000 years.
While on a visit to Walvis Bay in Namibia, I had the opportunity to film this
Greater Flamingo dancing to stir up shrimp and larvae living in the mud. 
(OK - I admit I added the music!)

Have you ever run across a bird that is a filter feeder...!?  When I think of filter feeding I think of baleen whales, like the great Blue whale and Humpback, feeding on plankton.   Turns out that flamingos have a diet of tiny creatures like shrimp and other water creatures that live in and on the muddy bottom.  Their long legs and long neck allow them to feed in a range of depths. 

But there's much more to the you can see from my video, flamingos feed upside down!  Consequently these birds have undergone a series of amazing adaptations through natural selection.
Their unusually shaped bill, held upside down, contains lamellae, plates that act like tiny filters to trap the creatures they feed upon. Using their tongues they suck water in at the front of the bill and pump it out through the sides.

The fact that they feed upside down has shaped the bill into the "weird" design that we see today.

In most birds, the upper beak is larger than the lower one.  So guess what happens when these birds make a living by feeding upside down?  The beaks get reversed and the lower one becomes larger.  Not only that, but the articulation of the beak to the skull has evolved!  The upper beak can move when feeding.  Turns out flamingos keep their lower beak stationary and move the upper beak against it.

Try doing that with your upper jaw!  Say cheese!
Thanks for visiting!  Happy adventures!

For more about the wonders of the flamingo beak see the fascinating article on