Flamingos form firm friendships, study finds

written by Oceanographic Staff

A five-year study has discovered that flamingos consistently spend time with specific close friends within a large flock, while also avoiding certain individuals. This suggests that there are some individuals who don’t get along.

A team at the University of Exeter examined four different flamingo species at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, and found social bonds including couples, same-sex friendships and even groups of three and four close friends.

flamingos study Exeter Slimbridge

“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 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. We see pairs of males or females choosing to ‘hang out’, we see trios and quartets that are regularly together.”

The study used data from 2012-2016, and examined flocks of Caribbean, Chilean, Andean and Lesser flamingos. The flocks varied in size from just over 20 to more than 140, and the findings suggest larger flocks contained the highest level of social interactions. Dr Rose hopes that these findings could help to improve the management of captive flamingos.

“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,” added Dr Rose. “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 researchers also found that the changing seasons affected social interactions – more bonds were formed during breeding season, in spring and summer.

“The simple lesson of this is that captive flamingo flocks should contain as many birds as reasonably possible,” Dr Rose concluded. “When moving birds from one zoo to another, we should be careful not to separate flamingos that are closely bonded to each other.”

To read the full paper, “Evaluating the social networks of four flocks of captive flamingos over a five-year period: Temporal, environmental, group and health influences on assortment”, click here.

Photograph courtesy of WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, via Facebook.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here or on one of the images below:

current issue

Back Issues

Enjoy so much more from Oceanographic Magazine by becoming a subscriber.
A range of subscription options are available.