As far as birds go, the pink flamingo has had its ups and downs. In ancient times, the pink flamingo waffled between being a delicacy for Roman plates and the living representation of the Egyptian god Ra. By the 20th century the flamingo became the ubiquitous plastic lawn ornament, forever associated with suburban America, and the unfortunate live croquet mallet in Alice in Wonderland.
I’d like to suggest that there’s some interesting science to be found in this long legged pink bird, beyond lawn aesthetics and sport utility.
For example – Why are pink flamingos pink? Turns out, it for much the same reason why pink salmon are pink. Both these animals have a natural diet that is high in shrimp, krill, and blue-green algae. The pigments in these species, once digested, produces chemicals which are deposited as a pink colour in flamingo feathers and salmon flesh. Indeed, zoo-fed flamingos are often pale due to an unnatural diet lacking in shrimps and algae.
Or how about this – Why do flamingos stand on one leg? There are some outlandish theories out there – everything from mitigating gravity effects to increased predation reaction time. More recent research has suggested that the birds alternate standing legs as a way of regulating heat loss while standing in cold water. (Find the original paper here and a briefer summary here). The scientists conducting the study noted that birds stood on one leg most often when they were in water, while preferring to stand on two legs on land.
Of course, this all doesn’t explain the most interesting question – What IS the efficiency of a flamingo croquet mallet versus a wooden croquet mallet??