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Scientific Classification

Class - Aves (Birds)

Order - Ciconiiformes (also listed as Order Phoenicopteriformes)

Members of this order have long legs and long necks. Order Ciconiiformes also includes storks, herons, and ibises.

The classification of flamingos has puzzled taxonomists for years. The skeletal structure, egg-white proteins, and behavior patterns cause scientists to link flamingos to various groups.

  • The pelvis and ribs of a flamingo are similar to those of storks.
  • The composition of egg-white proteins in flamingo eggs are similar to that of the herons.
  • Behavior patterns, especially those of chicks, link them closely to geese (Order Anseriformes). Flamingos also have webbed feet and waterproof plumage like geese.
  • More recently, taxonomists have grouped flamingos in their own Order - Order Phoenicopteriformes. 


Family - Phoenicopteridae

Flamingos are the only members of the family Phoenicopteridae. Distinguishing characteristics include long legs; a long, curved neck; and a goose-like voice.


Genus, Species

There are five species of flamingos divided into three genera:

  • Phoenicopterus ruber is divided into two distinct and geographically separated subspecies: P.r. ruber and P.r. roseus. Some scientists classify these as two separate species.
    • P.r. ruber, the Caribbean flamingo, is slightly smaller than P.r. roseus.
    • P.r. roseus, the greater flamingo, is the largest of the flamingos and has deep pink wings.
  • Phoenicopterus chilensis, the Chilean flamingo. Chilean flamingos are slightly smaller than Caribbean flamingos and have gray legs with pink bands at the joints.
  • Phoenicopterus minor, the lesser flamingo. (Still sometimes listed in the genus Phoeniconaias). This species is the smallest of all flamingos. The color of the lesser flamingo is brighter than the greater flamingo.
  • Phoenicoparrus jamesi, the James' flamingo. This species is characterized by having all black flight feathers, including the secondary flight feathers, which are red in other species.
  • Phoenicoparrus andinus, the Andean flamingo. This is the only species of flamingo that has yellow legs and feet. It also has a red spot between the nostrils. 


Fossil Record

Fossil evidence indicates that the group from which flamingos evolved is very old and existed about 30 million years ago, before many other avian orders had evolved.

The discovery and study of a fossil in 1976 suggested that flamingos arose from ancient shorebirds.

Fossilized flamingo footprints, estimated to be seven million years old, have been found in the Andes Mountains.