Pinker flamingos are more aggressive, study finds

Colour plays ‘important role’ in ‘complex social structures’, researcher says

Zoe Tidman
Monday 08 June 2020 12:11
Pinker flamingos are more aggressive, study finds

Bright pink flamingos are more aggressive than paler ones when it comes to fighting over food, according to new research.

Researchers from University of Exeter — who looked at lesser flamingoes with WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre — said very pink feathers mean the animals are in good health and ready to breed.

Therefore, they said the most colourful male and female birds from this species tend to be more aggressive when competing for food.

“Flamingos live in large groups with complex social structures,” Dr Paul Rose, from the University of Exeter, said.

“Colour plays an important role in this. The colour comes from carotenoids in their food, which for lesser flamingos is mostly algae that they filter from the water.”

He said: “A healthy flamingo that is an efficient feeder — demonstrated by its colourful feathers — will have more time and energy to be aggressive and dominant when feeding.”

The study by the university and WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, which has been published in the journal Ethology , also found lesser flamingoes were more relaxed if they had more space to feed.

Dr Rose studied the behaviour of the birds at the wildlife reserve in Gloucestershire in different feeding situations, including at an indoor feeding bowl, a larger indoor feeding pool, and outdoors with food available in a large pool.

The flamingos outside spent less time showing aggressive behaviours, while foraging time time doubled compared to when they were fed from a bowl.

“When birds have to crowd together to get their food, they squabble more and therefore spend less time feeding,” Dr Rose said.

“It’s not always possible to feed these birds outdoors, as lesser flamingos only weigh about 2kg and are native to Africa, so captive birds in places like the UK would get too cold if they went outside in the winter.”

He added: “However, this study shows they should be fed over as wide an area as possible.”

The zoologist said having outdoor feeding spaces can help encourage “natural foraging patterns” and “reduce excess aggression”.

Another study from the University of Exeter earlier this year found flamingos make long-lasting friendships.

The pink birds even “choose to hang out” with each other, researchers said.

Dr Rose, who was also the author of this study, said: “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.”

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