All flamingos are found in tropical and subtropical areas.
Populations of Chilean flamingos are found in central Peru, both coasts of southern South America (mainly in the winter), Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, and southern Brazil. Stragglers have been reported on the Falkland Islands and Ecuador.
The lesser flamingo is primarily an African species. Populations are found in eastern, southwestern, and western Africa. In addition, a sizable population nests in India. Stragglers can be found as far north as southern Spain.
The James' flamingo has the most restricted range of all flamingo species. They are found in southern Peru, northeastern Chile, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.
Andean flamingos are found in southern Peru, north-central Chile, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.
The Caribbean flamingo is found throughout the Caribbean ( Cuba, the Bahamas, the Yucatan, Turks and Caicos), the Galapagos Islands, and the northern part of coastal South America.
The greater flamingo has the most widespread distribution of all flamingo species. Populations are found in northwest India, the Middle East, the western Mediterranean, and Africa. Limited numbers of this species can be found over much of northern Europe and eastward to Siberia.
The flamingo's most characteristic habitats are large alkaline or saline lakes or estuarine lagoons that usually lack vegetation. Lakes may be far inland or near the sea.
A variety of habitats are used by flamingos: mangrove swamps, tidal flats, and sandy islands in the intertidal zone.
The presence or absence of fish may have a great influence on the use of lakes by some flamingos.
- The Chilean flamingo is scarce or absent in lakes with fish. It is present, usually in large numbers, where there are no fish with which to compete for food.
- The introduction of fish to some lakes may seriously affect the distribution of the Chilean flamingo as well as the greater and Caribbean flamingos, since they all feed primarily on invertebrates. Other flamingo species are not affected because of different food sources.
Flamingos are generally non-migratory birds. However, due to changes in the climate and water levels in their breeding areas, flamingo colonies are not always permanent.
- Populations that breed in high-altitude lakes, which may freeze over in the winter, move to warmer areas.
- When water levels rise, birds may search for more favorable sites.
- Drought conditions may force some flamingo populations to relocate.
- Most flamingos that migrate will return to their native colony to breed. However, some may join a neighboring colony.
- When flamingos migrate, they do so mainly at night. They prefer to fly with a cloudless sky and favorable tailwinds. They can travel approximately 600 km (373 miles) in one night at about 50 to 60 kph (31-37 mph). When traveling during the day, the flamingos fly at high altitudes, possibly to avoid predation by eagles.
The movements of the greater flamingo population living in Carmarque in southern France have been closely monitored since 1977.
- Most flamingos that leave the colony go either southwest to winter in Spain, or southeast to winter in Tunisia and Turkey.
- The percentage of birds that travel east or west seems to depend on the direction of the prevailing winds in the birds' first autumn.
The lesser flamingo is the most numerous of all flamingo species, with an estimated population of 1.5 to 2.5 million individuals.
The second most numerous flamingo species is the greater flamingo. Exact numbers of these birds are difficult to assess because of their extensive range and migration patterns.
The Chilean flamingo is the most numerous of the south American flamingos. Estimated total population is not more than 200,000 individuals, and the population is in a decline.
The James' flamingo has an estimated population of 64,000 individuals.
Estimated population of the Andean flamingo is 33,927 birds with a decreasing trend.
In 1956, the Caribbean flamingo numbers were estimated at only 21,500. Since then, the population has increased to a current estimate of 850,000 to 880,000 birds and a stable trend.