Flamingo Fluid Dynamics

Beneath their comical appearance, many flamingo behaviors actually harness fluid dynamics to help them catch food.

Flamingos strut and dance and bob, but there’s more to these comical birds than meets the eye. Flamingos can thrive in nutrient-poor environments that other birds eschew, like salt flats and alkaline lakes. Their secret, it turns out, is a mastery of fluid dynamics.

Researchers studying the behaviors of the Nashville Zoo’s flamingo flock discovered that their seemingly silly behaviors all had fluid dynamical consequences. When the birds stomped and danced in small circles, it stirred up the muck in the water they eat from. With their beaks below the surface, the birds then opened and closed their mouths, darting their tongues in and out; this generated suction to carry food particles toward them. Periodically, they’d bob their heads up, creating a vortex for extra suction. Even their walking, which they did while skimming the water surface with their bills facing backward, generated flows that helped carry food to their mouths. (Image credit: cshong; research credit: V. Ortega-Jiménez et al.; via Science; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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