Can Flamingos Fly? Facts & Figures

You may see flamingos chilling in zoos or animal parks and you might rightfully wonder how come they don’t fly away? Can flamingos even fly?

Turns out that there’s actually a reason why the flamingos you see in zoos will stay put. Technically, they can’t fly away, but it’s not because flamingos don’t fly.

Below, I will shed some light on the mystery of why flamingos don’t fly away from their enclosures in zoos or some animal parks, and other interesting facts about how flamingos fly.

Can Flamingos Actually Fly?

Yes, flamingos can actually fly, and they do so with quite the proficiency. All the six flamingo species in the world can fly.

When in flight, a flamingo will fly with its neck and head stretched out and legs trailing behind.

Flamingos can cover distances of 600 km (373 miles) over the course of a single night. They also fly at high altitudes, somewhere between 10,000-13,000 feet.

They fly at higher altitudes especially during the day to protect themselves from falling prey to eagles.

Therefore, flamingos can not only fly, but they can cover a lot of ground, at relatively high altitudes.

Do Flamingos Migrate?

Yes, some flamingos migrate, however, generally flamingos are non-migratory birds. There are several reasons why flamingos migrate, but usually changes in temperature and climate are the chief reasons.

For example, flamingo colonies that live around lakes that are at high altitude will move to warmer areas in the winter, when those lakes freeze over.

In southern Africa, flamingos usually migrate to Makgadikgadi to breed. Outside the breeding season, it has been observed that the movements of flamingos are widely dispersed around the subcontinent.

In Asia, flamingos will migrate to warmer regions of Iran and India, while flamingos of the Camargue region in France will migrate to Spain, Tunisia, or Turkey.

Therefore, while not all flamingos are migratory, some are forced by seasonal changes and the cold weather setting in to migrate to warmer regions.

When migrating, flamingos are nocturnal, preferring to travel during the night. They also usually fly with a cloudless sky and favorable tailwinds.

Why do Flamingos Fly?

Flamingos fly for a variety of reasons, which aren’t necessarily tied to migrating to a warmer region. For example, changing water levels may force flamingos to seek out more favorable sites.

Whether water levels rise or go down because of drought conditions, flamingos will relocate to other areas, where they can find more food.

Flamingos can also be preyed upon by a variety of land predators such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, and jackals, so taking off in a flight can help flamingos escape such land predators.

When flamingos take off, they start running and stretch their necks out, then they proceed to flapping their wings vigorously, which lifts them into the air. They can take off both from water and land.

This take off ‘technique’ is somewhat similar to how airplanes take off, in that they need to build momentum before becoming airborne.

Unfortunately, flamingos can also be preyed upon in the sky by eagles, which is one of the explanations as to why flamingos choose to fly at night during their migration.

Do Flamingos Fly in Formations?

Yes, when migrating, flamingos fly in formations. These formations are V-shaped, which helps flamingos fly for long distances.

The logic behind the V-shaped formation is that each flamingo flies slightly above the one in front. This reduces resistance from the wind, making the flight more efficient and consuming less energy.

The flamingo flying at the front of the V-shape is the one leading the flock. It’s also the flamingo that has the hardest job of the flock because it takes the most resistance from the wind.

Luckily, flamingos in a formation will take turns leading the flock, so when one flamingo gets tired, another one replaces it, and so on.

Flamingos also communicate with each other while flying in formations. They make loud honking noises, which serve as a means to keep the formation tight and help organize their flight pattern.

Why Flamingos Won’t Fly Away from Zoo?

Now that I’ve cleared up that flamingos do indeed fly, it’s normal for you to wonder why flamingos don’t fly away from a zoo?

Turns out some of these flamingos can’t fly. But not because something is wrong with their ability to fly, but because they’ve been rendered flightless.

There are two main methods to render flamingos flightless – trimming their primary flight feathers and pinioning.

The first method is as straightforward as it sounds, and it’s harmless to the flamingo.

Clipping the flight feathers will temporarily ground the flamingo until the feathers grow back during the next molt, after which the procedure must be repeated.

The other method – pinioning – is much more invasive than clipping and painful, which is why it’s being phased out as a method of grounding flamingos; however, it’s still used in some regions.

Pinioning is a surgical procedure that involves removing the second phalange of the wing. This procedure is not only invasive, but it can cause significant pain to the bird. It’s also an irreversible process as the removed bone does not grow back. Not to mention that it’s also a cruel method.

Some zoos have chosen a third method, which may be the best as it doesn’t involve handling the flamingos in any way. This method involves setting up netting above the flamingo enclosure, which will prevent flamingos flying away.

The netting is placed quite high up, so flamingos can still fly freely in their enclosure. Obviously, it’s a more costly method, but it’s also more humane as it doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort that comes with being handled by zoo workers.

How Fast Can Flamingos Fly?

Flamingos can reach a flight speed of 50-60 km/h (31-37 mph), allowing them to cover long distances. This is important for flamingos that migrate after the breeding season.

As I mentioned before, flamingos don’t take off immediately. They need to build some momentum by running before becoming airborne.

They’re equally able to run on the ground and in the water, where their webbed feet come in handy, allowing them to gain speed before lifting up into the sky.

When landing, a flamingo will slow down and assume an upright position keeping their wings lifted until they touch the ground and run several paces until they come to a halt and can lower their wings.

Considering that some flamingos can weigh as much as 4 kg (8.8 pounds), their flight speed is rather impressive.

What Age do Flamingos Start Flying?

As with many other bird species, baby flamingos aren’t born with flight feathers, therefore, they’re unable to fly immediately after hatching.

Baby flamingos can take some time before they’re mature enough to start flying. First, their flight feathers need time to fully develop, after which they’ll need a couple of more weeks before they can fly properly.

So, in most flamingo species, young flamingos will start to fly at two or three months of age. But even then, they can only fly for short distances. To be able to fly for long distances, flamingos need to reach their full size.


There you have it – flamingos can and do fly, whether for short distances to look for better sources of food, or for long distances when migrating to more hospitable climates.

Their flying habits have evolved to maximize efficiency, especially during migration, when these birds need to cover long distances over a relatively short period.

Flamingos can also relocate to closer areas in search of food or to escape drought and other unfavorable weather conditions.

Flamingos can also take off to escape predators, however, their take-off is not as sudden as for other birds, since flamingos need to build momentum before they can lift up into the sky.

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