Herons and flamingos certainly bear many similarities, such as long legs, thin necks and water-wading habits. Despite their similarities, there has been debate over whether the two birds actually were related. While they belong to different families, the stunning pink flamingo and diverse heron are, in fact, members of the same order.
Herons and flamingos are ciconiiforms, meaning they belong to the order Ciconniiformes. Ciconiiforms are medium-to-large sized wading birds who are long-necked and leggy. Many use their large wingspans to be excellent fliers. Members of the order can be found all over the world, except for the frigid polar regions.
While flamingos commonly are classified in the order Ciconiiformes, they sometimes are classified in their own, separate order, Phoenicopteriformes. While flamingos do show a striking resemblance to herons and storks, they also share characteristics with other water birds, like ducks and pelicans, that made the classification with storks questionable. Some experts believed the resemblance of flamingos and herons was a case of convergent evolution and that they didn't actually share a common ancestor. DNA testing of flamingos in the 1990s concluded that flamingos are, in fact, closely related to herons, storks, ibises and other ciconiiforms.
There are only six species of flamingos in the world, ranging from three to five feet tall. They are wading birds that prefer brackish water. They have a unique way of filter feeding, moving water through their bill to strain out algae and small invertebrates. They get their trademark pink color via pigments in the tiny crustaceans they are known to munch on. In captivity their color can fade, so their diet often is supplemented with food coloring to keep their feathers pink. Flamingos gather in large flocks, which number in the hundreds and more.
Some 60 species of heron belong to the family Aredeidae. While they prefer the tropics, different species of heron are found all over the globe. They are recognized by their “s” shaped necks and long, straight bills. Herons feed on aquatic animals, particularly frogs and fish they catch while wading. There are three main types of herons: typical, night and tiger. Typical herons, like the blue heron, are active mostly during the day. Night herons have shorter legs and thicker bills than the typical herons, and are active during the evening hours. Tiger herons are shy and primitive herons with striped feathers.
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