Flamingos Form Lifelong Friendships Just Like Human Beings
‘We fly together, we die together, Bad Birds for life.’
Paul Rose, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Exeter, took it upon himself to investigate whether flamingos form close bonds with one another in the wild.
Whether it be same-sex pals, mating couples or groups of three to six, the pink-feathered birds don’t mess about when it comes to relationships: when they pick someone, they’re in it for the long haul.
Rose’s data – assembled between 2012 and 2016 from Caribbean, Chilean, Andean, and lesser flocks living at Gloucestershire’s Wildfowl and Wetlands Slimbridge Wetland Centre – found that flamingos maintain strong bonds that can last for decades, and this is often displayed by them huddling close together.
Rose told National Geographic: ‘The fact that they’re so long-lasting suggests these relationships are important for survival in the wild.’ In order to properly assess how strong friendships are among specific flocks, Rose photographed them daily across the four seasons, assessing those who regularly banded together.
For example, he said ‘there were two strongly bonded older females who did everything from courtship displays to building their nests together, and they were always joined by a male 20 years their junior’. If you see two flamingos ‘less than one neck length away’ from each other, they’re most likely friends.
Commenting on how the birds actually chose their mates, Rose said:
It seems to be more about finding someone with a similar personality, someone you don’t clash with. The flocks are noisy and busy, and probably the birds don’t need more stress. Having a buddy is good for your well-being… one way to reduce stress and fights is to avoid those birds you don’t get on with.
Rose also noted that due to the pivotal importance of friendship to flamingos, zoo owners should be cautious of splitting up those who are ‘closely bonded’. His full study has since been published in the June issue of Behavioural Processes.
Next time you see a flamboyance of flamingos, just know they’re probably best buds.
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