Unveiling the Reason Why Flamingos Go From Pretty Pink to Pale White

Allison DeGrushe - Author
By

Dec. 18 2023, Published 1:06 p.m. ET

A trio of flamingos.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Flamingos derive their pink color from carotenoid pigments present in their food.
  • The vibrant pink hue is not permanent, and various factors contribute to its fading or loss.
  • The process of feeding chicks is a factor that can result in the temporary loss of pink color in flamingos.
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Flamingos have captured our hearts for numerous reasons, and at the forefront is the enchanting allure of their unmistakable and vibrant pink hue. Their eye-catching color, coupled with their distinctively long necks and legs, never fails to captivate, ensuring they stand out effortlessly in any natural setting.

However, this dazzling pink spectacle isn't an everlasting affair, and various factors can play a role in the fading or loss of this vibrant pigment. Ready for the reveal? Read on to discover why flamingos bid adieu to their pink tint!

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A group of flamingos at Safari West in California.
Source: Getty Images

Why do flamingos lose their pink color?

Let's dive into the fascinating world of flamingos! These elegant birds get their signature pink color from carotenoid pigments found in their favorite foods, primarily algae and crustaceans. The magical transformation begins as beta-carotene breaks down in the flamingo's liver. From there, the pigments are deposited in the feathers, skin, and beak, creating that unique and oh-so-chic pink hue.

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But as previously stated, the pink color is not permanent. Numerous factors come into play, leading to the fading or loss of a flamingo's breathtaking pink pigment.

For starters, flamingos undergo molting, where old feathers are shed and replaced by new ones. During this process, the pigments are not always retained, resulting in a temporary loss of color until the new feathers grow in.

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Flamingos facing stress or health issues may have difficulty effectively metabolizing carotenoids, leading to a paler appearance due to less efficient pigment deposition. Additionally, environmental changes can affect the availability of specific pigments in the flamingo's habitat, ultimately impacting their coloration.

Female flamingos lose their pink color when they become mothers.

Surprisingly, parenthood has an impact on the pink coloring of both male and female flamingos! While feeding chicks, they transfer carotenoid pigments from their food to many parts of their bodies, including feathers, skin, and beaks.

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On April 25, 2023, TikTok user @parentingtranslator explained this phenomenon in a short video.

"Scientists have found that male and female flamingos lose their pink color when they have young children," she wrote in the caption. "This is because they give their babies a 'crop milk' which contains so much of the carotenoid pigment from their food (the source of their own pink color) that their colors drain to a dull gray. As their babies grow older, flamingos regain their pink color."

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This revelation sent shockwaves through the digital world, prompting discussions on various social media platforms.

"My mom told me to stay pink today!!" one person wrote on X. "She said that flamingos lose their color when they're pregnant [with] their offspring."She said don't lose yourself, stay pink!! I swear I do everything for my kids — even to my detriment."

A second X user chimed in, "Learned that flamingos (male and female) lose their color because they're giving all their energy to their children (feeding them). Adding this to [the] 'Did you know?' section of my brain."

"Apparently flamingos lose their pink color when raising their young because so much of their food/energy goes to them… I've never related so [f--king] much to a flamingo," another X user added.

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