Flamingo chicks turn pink because they drink blood milk

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Flamingos are arguably one of the weirder animals to call this world their home. Even discounting the fact that they can sneeze boiling salt water out of their eyes and drink with their heads upside down, flamingos just look weird which is partly down to the fact that, as chicks, flamingos have their parents cry blood milk directly into their mouths. Or at least it really looks like that. 

You see, flamingos are one of a few birds on Earth capable of producing what is known as crop milk, a milk like substance that is roughly analogous to mammal milk in terms of its fat and protein content but is described as being closer to, and we’re really sorry about this, cottage cheese in consistency and mouthfeel.

“what?”

This “milk” is, as the name suggests, produced in the birds crop, an extension of the digestive system present in most but not all birds used to store food that has yet to be broken down and turned into energy for flapping its wings and other assorted bird shit. Essentially think of it as a pouch the bird can store food in allowing it to limit the amount of time it needs to spend feeding and thus, at risk of being fucked up by a predator. As noted above, in some species of birds the crop can be used to produce “milk” which is both nutritious, delicious and in the case of flamingos, redder than Doom Guy’s bootheel after a jaunt through Hell.

Specifically flamingo milk contains a pigment known as canthaxanthin giving it a deep red colour which is stored in the liver of a juvenile bird and helps turn it pink as its baby flamingo fluff is replaced by proper feathers. Baby flamingos are reportedly almost wholly dependent on this milk for the first few months of their life as their beaks lack the ability to filter water for the algae and crustaceans that will make up the bulk of their diet as adults. For the curious, this is because baby flamingos are born without the iconic hooked beaks of their parents and as such, cannot feed in the same way. The problem with this is, because the milk looks like blood it makes baby flamingos looks like they’re pecking out their parents eyes every time they feed.

To be clear, the substance isn’t blood or milk in the traditional sense, but it does really, really look like the former, something that isn’t helped by the fact flamingo milk contains blood cells and you know, look like this.

Curiously, feeding their chicks in this way causes the plumage of adult flamingos to fade meaning that they literally force feed their own pigmentation to their babies so that they can turn pink as teenagers.