Flamingos show complex social lives, maintaining friendships through the years and even avoiding individuals they don’t get along with.
The five-year study tracked flocks of Caribbean, Chilean, Andean and Lesser flamingos at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre between 2012 and 2016. These flocks varied in number from 20 to 140 individuals, and all showed complex webs of social interactions. Despite being highly social as part of large flocks, flamingos consistently spend time with specific close “friends”, the team explains.
Birds of a feather
“Our results indicate that flamingo societies are complex. They are formed of long-standing friendships rather than loose, random connections,” said Dr. Paul Rose, of the University of Exeter.
“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 team explains that flamingos form complex social relationships inside the flock. These bonds include “married” couples, same-sex friendships and even groups of three and four close friends. Furthermore, they tend to also avoid certain individuals, suggesting some just don’t see eye to eye.
There was quite some variety in how the birds treated each relationship. Some tended to spend most of their time with their mate, others less, but all still formed and maintained social connections outside the pair.
The seasons affected social interactions, too, with more bonds forming in spring and summer — the breeding season.
“Flamingos don’t simply find a mate and spend their time with that individual. We see pairs of males or females choosing to ‘hang out’, we see trios and quartets that are regularly together” Dr. Rose explains.
“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.”
The team also tried to establish whether the flamingoes’ health (measured by the health of their feet) influences their social lives; the birds would continue to engage with their mates, friends, and other flock members even when not in perfect health, the team reports, suggesting that this activity is extremely important to them.
Such findings should help inform the management of captive flamingos, the team adds. Their observations suggest that care should be taken not to separate birds that are close to each other when being moved from one zoo to another. Flocks should also be kept as large “as reasonably possible,” says Dr. Rose.