Changing Planet

Why Do Flamingos Eat Upside Down? Your Weird Animal Questions Answered

Welcome back to Ask Your Weird Animal Questions, where we answer your wildest questions about anything animal. 

Today’s post is all avian, starting with one bird’s topsy-turvy table manners.

Why Does a Flamingo Eat Upside Down?

Brittney from the U.S. sent in this question about the flamingo dining experience, which, it turns out, actually starts with their feet.

A photo of a flamingo eating.
A flamingo feeds in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Photograph by Roberto Russi, National Geographic Your Shot

The birds stir up food from the bottoms of the lakes and estuaries, then lower their bills into the water, where openings on the top of the bills and structures called lamellae strain out crustaceans, algae, brine shrimp, insects, and fish, according to Animal Diversity Web.

The flamingo’s tongue helps pump the food-filled water in and out about three or four times a second. This method is called filter feeding.

Stanford University’s Stanford Birds website says the flamingo’s lower bill is much larger and the upper bill is not fixed, which is the opposite of other birds.

But this upside-down arrangement is perfectly adapted for upside-down eating. (Catch those bills in action in this video of flamingos of Kenya’s Lake Bogoria.)

Do Crows Like to “Snowboard”?

This video of a bird appearing to use a coffee cup lid to sled down a slanted, snow-covered roof—dubbed “crowboarding”—had Nat Geo editors wondering: Is the bird just winging it, or is it really playing?

We took this one to Paul Stancliffe of the British Ornithological Trust, who said the animal is a hooded crow trying to get a meal.

The bird “has found a lid with some food attached to it and has taken the lid to a safe perch on which to peck at the food,” he said.

“The bird is reluctant to give up on either the food or the perch, so as it keeps sliding into the deeper snow, which makes pecking difficult, he tries and tries again.”

Dang! We were hoping for a real live surfin’ bird.

Are Male Kingfishers More Visible?

Some of us only get to go birding via YouTube, but some enjoy the luxury right in our own neighborhoods. Robert C. Brooke says he’s seen two male belted kingfishers by a pond near his home, and asks, “Are the males more likely to be seen?”

A photo of a female belted kingfisher and a male belted kingfisher
A female belted kingfisher (left) has a rusty color that the male (right) lacks. Photographs by Steve Ellwood, National Geographic Your Shot, Ian Stuart Forsyth, National Geographic Your Shot

Yes, since territorial males defend their nesting areas year-round while the females fly south for the winter, Marc Devokaitas, of the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, said via email.

This male territoriality might even have something to do with the female’s coloring. In most birds, males are more colorful than females, but not so for the belted kingfisher: Both sexes are blue and white, but the female sports an extra rust-colored stripe. Devokaitas said there’s a theory that this extra color helps the defensive male to recognize a returning female and welcome her with open wings instead of fighting her off.

Steve Johnson of New England Environmental concurs that stay-at-home males are more likely to be seen and says that more and more males from other bird species, like American robins, are doing the same thing.

“Oddly enough,” Johnson said in an email, “males gather in large foraging flocks and roost together in winter, even though they will all be fighting in spring.”

Do Birds Eat Other Birds?

An unidentified hawk species attacks a starling. Photograph by Ludmyla Golub, National Geographic Your Shot

The seemingly flighty behavior of birds continues with a question from Tristan, who saw a bird of prey, perhaps a hawk, fly off with a smaller bird. So, he asks, do birds eat other birds?

They do, indeed: Several species of hawks eat songbirds, according to the National Audubon Society, such as Cooper’s hawksred-tailed hawks, and rough-legged hawks. According to the West Virginia University Extension Service, it’s nature’s way of controlling songbirds’ numbers to maintain a balanced population.

Maybe it’s my inner Wednesday Addams, but the California condor is one of my favorite birds. The Tucson News Now recently reported some good news for the critically endangered animal, once extinct in the wild and saved by captive breeding programs. Eggs were recently found in wild flocks in Arizona and Utah and in a captive flock in Idaho, plus four chicks hatched in the wild in the Arizona-Utah area last year, the most ever hatched in a season. Hooray for the comeback kids!

Leave your weird animal questions in the comments or tweet me at @LizLangley.

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Liz Langley is the award-winning author of Crazy Little Thing: Why Love and Sex Drive Us Mad and has written for many publications including Salon, Details and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @LizLangley and at www.lizlangley.com
  • Mark Butler

    With respect to the surfing crow, “Gifts of the Crow,” by John Marzluff and Tony Angell, has a whole chapter on corvid play, including activity like this. Yes, crows play.

  • Liz Langley

    @Mark Butler
    Thanks for the information, Mark! 🙂

  • Great post. We often get the question about birds feeding on other birds. Falcons like the merlin also feast on their feathered “friends” – very neat to see it happen in flight!

  • jason peace deus

    i want to know the parts of Tape worm

  • Liz Langley

    @Sean Gerrity
    Thanks, Sean! Where I live in Florida there are a lot of hawks. I’ve heard of them going after other birds but have never seen it – will have to keep my eyes open – they’re so big and grand they’re hard to miss! 🙂

  • douglas

    About the bird that feeds on other birds, I think its kind of like the survival of the fittest. I ve seen a kite fly away with a chick, I ve seen birds battle in the sky and its all just for survival.

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