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The flamingo's characteristic pink coloring is caused by what they eat. Young flamingos are gray and their feathers turn pink only after they begin eating a steady diet of shrimp and plankton. Adults range from light pink to bright red due to aqueous bacteria and beta carotene obtained from their food supply. A well-fed, healthy flamingo is more vibrantly colored. A white or pale flamingo is usually unhealthy or malnourished. However, captive flamingos may turn a pale pink, as they are not fed carotene at levels comparable to the wild. This is changing as more zoos begin to add prawns and other supplements to the diets of their flamingos.
Flamingos frequently stand on one leg. The reason for this behavior is not fully known. One common theory is that tucking one leg beneath the body may conserve body heat, but this has not been proven. As well as standing in the water, flamingos may stamp their webbed feet in the mud to stir up food from the bottom.
Another strange thing about their legs is that what looks like the knees are actually the ankles. The ankle joint allows the leg to rotate and bend backwards. To eat, flamingos wade out into the water, turn themselves completely upside-down, and — looking backwards — scoop up algae, insects, and shrimp with their oddly-shaped beaks. Their legs, which are longer than the rest of their bodies, help them wade out into deeper waters, where they can reach food sources other birds can’t, while their webbed feet support them on the soft mud.
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