Flamingos form cliques with birds like them

Watch a Caribbean flamingo fight and fight. Credit: Paul Rose

According to a study published in , flamingos want to hang out with like-minded flamingos Scientific Reports.

The researchers, who observed Caribbean and Chilean flamingos in captivity, found that the birds spent more time with those with whom they shared personality traits.

The information could help improve the welfare of birds (and other animals) in zoos.

“Our previous research has shown that individual flamingos have specific ‘friends’ within the flock,” says study co-author Dr. Paul Rose, from the World Wildlife Trust and the Center for Research in Animal Behavior at the University of Exeter, UK.

“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.

Chilean flamingo argument. Credit: Paul Rose

Flamingos stand in the river
Two Caribbean flamingos team up with another bird. Credit: Paul Rose

“For example, braver birds had stronger, more enduring bonds with other brave birds, while submissive birds tended to spend their time with other submissive flamingos.”

They observed a flock of 147 Caribbean flamingos and a flock of 115 Chilean flamingos, both kept at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Slimbridge Wetland Center in the UK.

Researchers measured various flamingo personality traits, such as aggressiveness and exploratory behavior.

“We used a specific description of what each personality looked like to ensure they were recorded consistently,” says Rose.

“We then checked that we categorized the same personality in the same bird for consistency.”

It took several months of flamingo observation to collect enough data for this.

Caribbean flamingo fight. Credit: Paul Rose

“Flamingos are pretty ‘obvious’ in their behavior — you can clearly see when they’re angry or excited or uncomfortable depending on how they hold their feathers, how they vocalize and what their general body language is — so they’re a great study system.” for this kind of research,” says Rose.

Fighting flamingos
Brave Chilean flamingos crowd out a more submissive bird. Credit: Paul Rose

“Like humans, flamingos seem to have different roles in society based on personality,” says Fionnuala McCully, co-author of the study, who is now at the University of Liverpool, UK.

“For example, we observed groups of aggressive birds trying to dominate rivals and tending to fight more.

“Meanwhile, the role of submissive birds can be more complex than simply being further down the pecking order — they may use a different approach to get what they need.”

The researchers found that while groups of Caribbean flamingos played a special role for birds with certain personality types, the Chilean species did not.

“Our results need further investigation, both to help us understand the evolution of social behavior and to improve the welfare of zoo animals,” says Rose.

Fighting flamingos
An aggressive Caribbean flamingo crowds out two other birds. Credit: Paul Rose

“But what emerges from this research is that a flamingo’s social life is much more complicated than we first thought.”

Rose adds that because the behavior was so consistent, it seems likely that wild flamingos would follow similar patterns – although they can’t rule out environmental differences.

“In previous social behavior research on flamingos, I have received messages from wild flamingos ecologists saying they have observed what my work at the zoo has shown, but unfortunately the magnitude of wild flamingos populations makes it very difficult to consistently compare the same individuals measure. ”

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