With such brightly colored feathers and few good places to hide while standing in open water, it might seem logical to think flamingos are easy targets for predators. The opposite is true, however, since the marshy, boggy habitats that flamingos prefer offer protection against predators who require stealth and speed for attacks. Few animals prey on adult flamingos, but several will devour eggs and babies.
Other birds make up the largest group of flamingo predators. Although adult flamingos aren't often attacked, birds of prey will snatch young flamingos as well as eggs. Chicks may be taken right out of the nest before they're able to walk. Young flamingos who can walk are kept in small groups guarded by a few adults, but enterprising birds of prey find ways to attack them. Young flamingos are vulnerable for quite some time, since it takes three to five years to reach adult size. Common avian predators include white-headed, lappet-faced and Egyptian vultures, as well as Marabou storks, eagles and kites.
Wild cats take advantage of the fact that flamingos, especially young ones, have few natural defenses and need to run a few feet before they can fly. For the most part, cats hunt and attack juvenile birds or those that are still in the nest, although they may catch and kill slow-moving or ill adult birds. Jaguars, leopards, lions, cheetahs and the smaller margay, or tree ocelot, are all known to prey on flamingos.
Several members of the Canis lupus, or dog, family prey on flamingos when given the chance. Like other predators, they choose to attack mainly young birds, although they will also eat older flamingos if they can catch them. Canines, especially foxes, may also eat eggs in the nest. Jackals, coyotes, hyenas and foxes will all eat flamingos; however, hyenas often have more of an interest in panicking a group of flamingos than eating them.
In most parts of the world flamingos are simply admired for their beauty and not hunted for meat. Their eggs, however, are considered a delicacy by some and are taken from the nest for use in cultural dishes. In parts of South America, flamingos were once eaten because of a belief that the fat contained a compound that cured tuberculosis.
A handful of other animals prey on flamingos when the opportunity arises. These include raccoons and mink, who mainly eat eggs and newly hatched chicks, and large snakes like the python. In the Bahamas, wild pigs prey on flamingos on Great Inagua Island. In this rare case, the flamingo population has increased due to human activity, and the pigs have taken advantage of the abundant food supply. Domestic dogs have also been known to kill and eat flamingos that are being kept in captivity, such as at zoos.
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