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Flamingo Friendships: Opposites do not attract!

3 min read

Updated 01 May 2023

A flamboyance of flamingos. Image credit: Nomad Africa.
Picture of Chris McIntyre

By Chris McIntyre

Managing Director

*A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2023 Bush Telegraph newsletter. You can read our recent newsletters and sign-up to receive these in your inbox on our Bush Telegraph newsletter page.

For nearly a decade, researchers from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour have been studying the Caribbean and Chilean flamingos at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, UK.

Their latest study focused on flamingos’ personalities. Previous studies had confirmed that flamingos seek out particular ‘friends’ within a group, aside from their mating partner, and this research sought to establish if those friendships were driven by personality traits. In short, it turns out that they are. Flamingos make friends in much the same way as humans, by seeking out individuals with similar characteristics to their own. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together.

Flamingo flocks, which typically consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, provide plenty of opportunities for the birds to interact and bond with one another. Researchers believe that as they spend time together, they develop social connections akin to friendships.

Like many other social birds, flamingos have characteristic ways of forming and maintaining friendships within the flock. Communicating by honking, trumpeting, and head-flagging – in which they move their heads rapidly from side to side – they signal to attract and interact with potential friends. Buddies found, they then embark on coordinated walking or swimming, bonding over their synchronised behaviour, or preening and cleaning each other’s feathers, developing a sense of unity and cooperation.

But what makes them decide which birds to hang out with? Beyond their preference for interacting with familiar individuals over strangers, researchers observed and measured consistent behaviours to build a picture. Studying the birds’ various character attributes, from their willingness to explore to their degree of aggression, the scientists found conclusive results.

Bolder, louder flamingos sought out similar noisy traits in their chums while submissive, quieter birds also bonded together. Adventurous birds consorted with other natural explorers and all individuals frequently stood up for their avian pals in flock fights. So while flamingos don’t have the same cognitive abilities as humans, they definitely display social behaviours that help them establish and maintain meaningful relationships within their flocks.

To observe flamingo friendships in action, in spectacular Rift Valley settings, Tanzania’s Lake Manyara and Lake Natron are the perfect spots. The shallow soda lakes are tinged pink with flamingo reflections and the surrounding landscape is home to a host of predators and some very special camps. The 7-day Avocet Safari, taking in Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti is a luxury trip costing between £7,410-11,720pp.

If you’ve been inspired and want to find out more, give us a call or enquire now to speak to an expert.

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