Flamingo Vs Swans: All Differences Explained

flamingo vs swan

These two long-necked birds have a lot in common – but they also have some significant differences. Some are massive and always that way – no exceptions. Others are more about where they are or what they are doing. But, with these top tips, you will always be able to narrow it down to the right one.

The 5 Main Differences Between Flamingos And Swans

1: Color – Swans are only black or white – flamingos are bright pink

2: Legs – Flamingos always have their long legs on show in the water

3: Feeding – Swans always feed with their head the right way up – flamingos feed upside-down

4: Location – These two birds hardly overlap at all – almost like they avoid each other?

5: Friends – Swans bond for life and stay in pairs – flamingos gather in their thousands

Both flamingos and swans are large beautiful birds, both found in lakes, and both very striking. So hopefully, with the above comments as starters to narrow things down, we can look into those details in great depth and see if we can tweak out those grey areas and make things easier.

1: They Are Both Very Different Colors

Flamingos are famous for being amazingly pink in color – all the time. They might have a bit of white on their bodies or a bit of black on the wings, but overall they are unmistakably pink birds. There are hardly any pink birds that stand in the water on giant legs – so if you come across a few dozen (or a few thousand) pink birds all walking in the water – flamingos, it is for sure.

Swans are all either white, black, or white and black. They don’t come in any other colors. All 6 species fit this description, and apart from a few of them having yellow bills (one of the only ways to tell them apart), they are never pink. Ever. Baby swans are grey, though – which is also the same color as baby flamingos – but don’t worry – they are always with their mums.

2: Flamingos Always Have Visible Legs In The Water

Because of the way they feed – and the places they feed – flamingos always have to be on their feet in the water. Firstly, they feed mainly in very salty waters, which hold the food they eat (blue-green algae and plankton). Because of this saltiness, though, it is acidic (it burns flesh) – so nobody wants to be sitting in the water in these places. Secondly, they have incredibly long necks which need to hold their head right at the surface of the water to feed. The only way to keep their long necks in the right place is to have incredibly long legs to match!

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On the other hand, Swans are well-known for floating about on the surface of the water like silent pleasure boats. They glide around on lakes and rivers, creating hardly a ripple as their powerful legs paddle invisibly underwater. No caustic waters here for them to worry about. You will only see a swan’s legs when it comes out of the water to feed on fresh grass or steal food from an unsuspecting tourist. Like most floating birds, their legs are quite far back on the body, so they waddle when they walk.

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3: Swans And Flamingos Eat Different Foods – And In Different Ways

As mentioned above, flamingos feed on microscopic foods found in salty or briny waters, so they have developed a filtering system within their bill to do this. Their bill, or beak, sits on or close to the surface of the water, and they pump water through a series of ingenious horny plates using their tongue (like baleen whales). This catches all the tiny food for them – which also gives them their bright colors.

On the other hand, Swans feed like almost all other ducks and geese – just by grabbing plants (and dropped bread) with their simple normal-way up bills. They don’t have filters or horny plates – just soft shallow ridges to give them a better grip on the plants. They either ‘dabble’ underwater using their long necks to reach the plants on the riverbed, or they come out onto lawns and fields to graze the grass like two-legged sheep. 

4: They Both Live In Very Different Countries

For some reason, swans and flamingos don’t live in the same places. Apart from a bit of an overlap in southern South America and around the fringes of their ranges, they inhabit half the planet each. Flamingos have reserved the southern hemisphere and are found in Central and South America and across most of Africa and western Asia. There are 6 species of flamingo alive today, and 4 of those are only found in the Americas.

Swans fill the other parts of the map – mainly the northern hemisphere; found in North America, Iceland, mainland Europe, northern Asia, and even in Australia and New Zealand. They sure do prefer colder lands. There are only 6 species of swan, too, with 3 of those being found in North America. The Black-necked Swan overlaps with flamingos in South America, but it is such a distinct bird (white body with a black neck and head) that confusing it with a flamingo is all but impossible. 

5: Flamingos And Swans Have Different Friends

Flamingos are often seen in huge gatherings – all dancing to and fro in the shallow waters of a tropical lake somewhere. They gather in great colonies throughout the year, numbering in their thousands, and love being surrounded by other flamingos. Some say it is for added protection from predators; others say it is just for fun. Either way – you will rarely see a single flamingo anywhere – unless it is lost or injured. They always want the company of others – and they will pair with anyone who catches their eye – changing partners every breeding season.

Swans, however, are usually seen alone or in pairs or small family groups – they pair for life. There might be a few dozen mute swans all seen on the same lake or canal as you cycle by, but they are all in their unique small family group. Large gatherings of swans are usually only seen before or during migrations when several hundred can gather in good feeding grounds – usually stubble fields or marshland.  

Questions And Answers

Why Are Flamingos So Pink?

Flamingos are unique in that they take up a chemical compound in their food and carry it into their feathers. The carotenoids are found in the plankton they eat, and it gives them their amazing vibrant pinks. Early zoo keepers found that the flamingos lost their pink entirely when their diet was adapted to suit captivity, and they went white. Sometimes ill health can still cause a white flamingo to occur – but zoos have learned so much since those early days.

Do Swans Carry Their Young On Their Backs?

Yes, several species of swans – including Mute Swans and Black-necked Swans carry their cygnets on their backs – often curling their wings up over them to protect from the weather. A truly wonderful sight. Swans make great parents and are very protective of their young, spending a lot of time caring for them day-in, day out. You don’t want to come between a parent and their cygnet!

Which Is Heavier, Swan Or Flamingo?

Swans are generally – with the Trumpeter Swan being the largest in body size. It has up to 240cm (8ft) wingspan and weighs around 7-13kg (15-30lbs). The Mute Swan is shorter but heavier at up to 23kg (51lbs) – the heaviest bird to take flight. Swans are also the 7th heaviest type of bird in the world – and certainly the heaviest waterfowl.

Flamingos might be taller than swans with impressive wingspans – but the heaviest flamingos (Greater Flamingos) still only weigh around 4kg (8.8lb). It’s a bit lightweight.

Which Lays Bigger Eggs?

Answer: The swans lay huge eggs – with the largest swans producing eggs weighing up to 320g (11.3oz) – and a clutch of 4-6 is average, although they can lay up to 12 eggs per clutch. Flamingos, on the other hand, have only one single egg in each clutch. It is quite small in comparison and weighs only around 140g (5oz) – but is still 3 times the size of a large chicken egg.

Can You Get Blue Flamingos?

Answer: No, blue flamingos just wouldn’t happen. The chemical pathway for their pink color only works for that one thing – you can’t feed a flamingo various colored foods to make them rainbow-like.

Can Flamingos And Swans Have Kids?

Answer: No. They can’t. Flamingos and swans are so very distantly related that they could never naturally produce eggs together. Let alone the fact that they live in different parts of the world, have different diets, and look nothing alike – swans are monogamous, so probably wouldn’t want to have a flamingo fling.