Tracing the Roots of Beautiful Bird Hues
Baby flamingos are fluffy and adorably awkward. But they’re not pink. The fuzzy infants start off as white or gray, only later earning a distinctive rosy hue. That’s because these beautifully dorky birds don’t make their own color, but co-opt it from their microscopic meals.
Flamingo pink is created by carotenoids – organic pigments present in the algae and tiny crustaceans flamingos sieve from the water. Rather than breaking down in the birds’ stomachs, though, the pigments enter the bloodstream and get sucked up into feathers as they form. How pink a flamingo is depends on what the bird is eating.
This biological borrowing isn’t unique to flamingos. Many other birds have carotenoid-created colors in shades of