Picky flamingos prove birds of a feather do flock together

Picky flamingos prove birds of a feather do flock together

The flamingo may appear to be a bird of graceful insouciance, but when it comes to picking flock-mates, it is surprisingly choosy.

Bird experts have found that the pink waders form cliques with like-minded individuals within their group.

It means that, despite its name, a flamboyance of flamingos will have its share of non-showy, submissive individuals huddling together away from their more uproarious associates.

“Our previous research has shown that individual flamingos have particular friends within the flock,” said Dr. Paul Rose, from Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Exeter University’s Center for Research in Animal Behavior.

“In this study, we wanted to find out whether individual character traits explain why these friendships form.

“The answer is yes – birds of a feather flock together.

“For example, bolder birds had stronger, more consistent ties with other bold birds, while submissive birds tended to spend their time with fellow submissive flamingos.”

Birds ‘carve out different roles’

Scientists made the discovery while analyzing the personalities and social behavior of captive Caribbean and Chilean flamingos based at WWT Slimbridge.

Birds of both species tend to spend time with others whose personality is similar to their own.

The “personality” of flamingos was assessed by measuring consistent individual differences, such as aggressiveness and willingness to explore.

“Like humans, flamingos appear to carve out different roles in society based on their personality,” said Fionnuala McCully, now at the University of Liverpool, who collected data for the study.

“For example, we observed groups of aggressive birds that attempt to dominate rivals and tend to get in more fights.

“Meanwhile, the role of submissive birds may be more complex than simply being lower down the pecking order – they may be using a different approach to get what they need.

“The various different personality groups provide social assistance to their members, for example by supporting each other in the many squabbles that take place in flamingo flocks.”

Flamingos have ‘complicated’ social life

In the Caribbean flamingos, birds of a certain personality type had a particular role within the group overall, but this was not found in the Chilean flock.

Experts said the reasons for this are unclear, and it’s possible that a larger study of wild birds would find such a pattern.

Dr Rose said: “Our findings need further investigation, both to help us understand the evolution of social behavior and to improve the welfare of zoo animals.

“But it is clear from this research that a flamingo’s social life is much more complicated than we first realized.”

Flamingos, whose name derives from a Spanish word for flame coloured, achieve their distinctive hue from eating microscopic algae and brine shrimp that contain carotenoids – the same natural pigments that give carrots their color and turn tomatoes red.

There are six species of flamingo in the world, of which the greater flamingo is the largest flamingo species and can measure up to five-feet tall when standing erect with its head raised.

The paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is entitled: “Individual personality predicts social network assemblages in a colonial bird.”