By Janet Serra

Posted: 07/11/2017 15:25:50

No bird may claim a cultural influence as big and long as the flamingo, and no place in Connecticut is featuring the big pink icons this summer except The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. A small flock, or "flamboyance," of flamingos will be standing – often, on one leg – in the aviary on the Aquarium's riverfront courtyard through Labor Day, Sept. 4. The exhibit is free with Aquarium admission.

For family fun this summer, The Maritime Aquarium has more big sharks, the greatest variety of jellyfish, the only black dragon and the 'greenest' research vessel, while also being the most affordable aquarium in New England. This flamingo exhibit is the pink icing on the cake. The flamingos exhibit will complement the new IMAX® movie, "Amazon Adventure," opening July 1 on the Aquarium's six-story screen.

People love flamingos because they're just such a big and beautiful and interesting bird. Cultures have been celebrating them for ages – literally – and now you can too at the Maritime Aquarium. Ancient Egyptians are said to have used the flamingo to represent the reincarnation of their sun god. The birds have turned up in cave paintings in Spain and in ancient art of Peru. Alice used a flamingo as a croquet mallet when she went through the looking glass. And, of course, pink flamingos became a cultural icon of leisure and tropical travel in 1950s' America ... although today the image has evolved to represent hip high kitsch.

Displayed at The Maritime Aquarium will be six Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis), a larger species – 4 to 5 feet tall – native to southern South America. They're distinguished from other flamingo species by their paler plumage, by the downward half of their bills being black, and by their greyish legs with notably pink "knees." (Although, technically, what looks like their knees are really their "ankles.")

Chilean flamingos are considered to be "Near Threatened," with humans representing their main threat because of hunting, egg harvesting and by the loss of – and changes to – their natural habitats. The birds at the Aquarium are on loan for the summer from a zoo in Louisiana. Get details about all of the Aquarium's summer offerings – including cruises onto Long Island Sound, a mesmerizing expanded jellyfish area, and the new IMAX movie "Amazon Adventure" – at www.maritimeaquarium.org.

Flamingo Facts!

• There are six different species of flamingos. (The Caribbean flamingo, seen in southern Florida, is the only species native to North America.) The flamingos at The Maritime Aquarium are Chilean flamingos, native to southern South America.

• Although we commonly think of flamingos as living in tropical regions, Chilean flamingos can occupy habitats ranging from sea level up to 14,000 feet in the Andes Mountains.

• The flamingos visiting the Aquarium are 7 years old. (They can live to 30 years and older.) They are on loan from a zoo in Louisiana.

• A flamingo gets its pink color from the carotenoid pigments in the shrimp and other crustaceans it eats. If it eats fewer of the creatures, it will become paler in color. • To feed, a Chilean flamingo turns its open bill upside down and sweeps it through the water. Comb-like adaptations inside the bill help to strain water out of its mouth – leaving the food to swallow. (Much like how baleen whales feed!)

• No one really knows why flamingos tend to stand on one leg. The most common theory suggests that, by having only one leg in cooler water, the flamingo can conserve body heat.

• Plastic flamingos are considered the height of kitsch. The original plastic lawn flamingo was created in 1957 by a man named Don Featherstone of Union Products in Leominster, MA. Many imitations have found their way onto front lawns since, but "official" pink flamingos made by Union Products from 1987-2001 can be identified by the imprinted signature of Don Featherstone located on the rear underside.

• In 2009, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo the official bird of the city.

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