Flamingos form strong bonds and lasting friendships
A new study from the University of Exeter has revealed that social interactions among flamingos are much like the relationships that are forged by humans. The researchers found that, beyond the bonds they have with their mates, flamingos form lasting friendships.
“It seems that – like humans – flamingos form social bonds for a variety of reasons, and the fact they’re so long-lasting suggests they are important for survival in the wild,” explained study lead author Dr. Paul Rose.
Flamingos are highly sociable animals, living and feeding in large flocks to help protect each other. Despite their loyalty to the flock, however, the new research suggests that flamingos seek out close friends with whom they prefer to spend their time. The study also found that flamingos avoid certain individuals that they do not care for.
“Our results indicate that flamingo societies are complex. They are formed of long-standing friendships rather than loose, random connections,” said Dr. Rose.
“Flamingos don’t simply find a mate and spend their time with that individual. Some mating couples spend much of their time together, but lots of other social bonds also exist.”
Over the course of five years, the Exeter team observed flamingos at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre. This wildlife reserve is home to four flamingo species: Caribbean, Chilean, Andean, and Lesser flamingos.
The flocks varied in size from just over 20 to more than 140, and the highest level of social interactions was observed in the larger flocks.
The experts identified various types of relationships, including mates that acted like married couples, close friendships among males or females, and social groups that consisted of three or four close friends.
“We see pairs of males or females choosing to ‘hang out’, we see trios and quartets that are regularly together,” said Dr. Rose.
“Flamingos have long lives – some of the birds in this study have been at Slimbridge since the 1960s – and our study shows their friendships are stable over a period of years.”
The researchers measured the health of the birds, according to the condition of their feet, to investigate whether there was a link between health and social engagement. There was nothing to suggest that poor health kept the birds from engaging, and Dr. Rose said this could mean that socializing is so important to flamingos that they continue to do it even if they are not feeling at their best. He emphasized that the study findings could help in the management of captive flamingos.
“When moving birds from one zoo to another, we should be careful not to separate flamingos that are closely bonded to each other,” said Dr. Rose. “The simple lesson of this is that captive flamingo flocks should contain as many birds as reasonably possible.”
The study is published in the journal Behavioural Processes.