The San Francisco Zoo has been one of my favorite places to visit since I was a little boy.

Although I do not particularly like the idea of caging animals, the San Francisco Zoo is committed to conservation and to offering the best habitat possible within the limitations of being a municipally funded zoo and all that brings with it in terms of probably often not having as much money at its disposal as it needs.

In these photos, you can view some Chilean flamingos, that I photographed. There are six types of flamingo, including five separate species — with one species that is split into two, according to the San Francisco Zoo.

Ever wonder how a flamingo can contort its neck?

"There are 17 vertebrae in a flamingo neck, while humans have only seven," according to the zoo. "Flamingos have an elongated, sinuous neck, short tails, and a long wingspan. The plumage of the Chilean flamingo is paler than other species. Colors vary within a range of white, pale pink, rose, salmon to black.

"The toes are short and webbed, the legs are naked, with the heel and feet being pink. They have yellowish-gray legs with red 'knees' and feet, though the “knees” are really carpal joints and bend both ways.

"The bill is black and adapted for its unique feeding method: it is held upside down, and swept back and forth so that minute organisms and algae are filtered from the water.

"The bill is bent sharply downward with filtering structures, and the upper jaw fits into the lower jaw like a box lid. The fleshy tongue works to and fro like a piston, moving water back and forth through the bill’s filtering apparatus.

"The flamingo’s voice is loud and rather goose-like and appears to be important in keeping the flock together when flying.

"Flamingos are able to swim as well as fly. They’re migratory and fly in 'skeins' or 'V' formations. In flight, the neck is extended forward and the legs are extended backwards.
"While average lifespan for a wild flamingo is usually between 20 and 30 years, they may live over 50 years in captivity.

"Chilean flamingos live in shallow brackish salt water lakes, coastal estuaries, and lagoons. Their geographic range includes central Peru, and south along the Andes to Tierra del Fuego.

"In the wild, flamingos eat algae, crustaceans, brine shrimp, diatoms and aquatic plants. At the zoo, a special 'flamingo fare' (a nutritionally balanced diet with a texture like soup) is served.

"To preserve their rosy color at the zoo, their diet is high in caratenoids.

"Flamingos are very social when assembled in nesting areas, and nests are usually built two nest-lengths apart.

"During courtship, both sexes participate in ritualized displays, such as 'head-flagging' followed by 'wing saluting,' similar to everyday preening and stretching, except they are more stiffly performed. These displays occur months before and after actual nesting.

"Their nests are built in muddy areas where the mud is scooped and piled into a mound about 15 inches in diameter and about 1.5 to 2 feet high, and defended with various threat postures.

"The young are born with a gray down covering and, like pigeons, are fed 'milk', secretion from the crop, a pouched enlargement of the gullet. The young are precocial and are fed until approximately three months of age. Flamingos do not breed until they lose their gray juvenile color at about two to three years of age.

"While natural predators are few (due to the inhospitable places in which these birds live), all flamingo species are vulnerable to habitat change and exploitation. According to a recent census, no more than 200,000 individual Chilean flamingos survive in the wild today, and egg collectors have been blamed for the partial or complete failure of some Bolivian flamingo nesting colonies."

You can find these beauties near the Leaping Lemur Cafe at the San Francisco Zoo.

Photos can be downloaded for free for noncommercial personal use.

(San Francisco Zoo text has been edited.)
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