Flamingo Mating Dance - Photo by H.W.Rijerkerk/Shutterstock.com
Humans dance to music. Flamingos dance to mate.
If you love flamingos, you’ve probably seen a video online or in a documentary of the fabulous fowls bobbing their heads and prancing about in unison, often through shallow water. These crazy dances are a piece of the puzzle in flamingo courtship.
Flamingos have 136 different combinations of dance moves in their repertoire and could probably teach you a thing or two for when you go out next Friday night, but they have nine signature moves up their sleeves. These moves range from simple to more complex, with some taking years for a flamingo to exact into a perfect science.
Head flagging is one of the more basic moves and often the way one flamingo will try to get a dance party started. Generally, the tallest males in the flamboyance will try to get it started by standing up very straight and swinging their head back and forth. The goal is to convince the rest of the group to catch notice and join in on the dance. Then the real fun can begin.
But it doesn’t always work. Flamingos sometimes don’t time their head flagging well, and it doesn’t catch on. Nobody, not even flamingos, want to get up and dance while they’re taking a nap or foraging for food!
When it does work, though, it turns into one of the most beautiful sights in nature - hundreds of flamingos stepping together with their heads turning side to side, bobbing up and down, their bodies swinging to and fro, while they also pay attention to their fellow dancers to evaluate their attractiveness.
Unlike some other birds, like peacocks, male and female flamingos both engage in these dance activities. It’s often the males who get it started, but the females join in and help build the orchestra of movement flamingo fans love to behold.
Some species of flamingos have different dances, too, or at least different dances that they prefer. For example, while wing saluting - which can include opening up their wings and spreading them wide to display a shocking array of bright colors while simultaneously bowing, and/or lowering one wing to the side with the other still open like a human presenting something to someone - is popular across flamingo species, the Chilean flamingos especially embrace the move.
“Interestingly, this wing flashing behavior is especially significant in Chilean flamingos,” Paul Rose, a WWT research associate, said in a WWT article from 2019. “Apparently you can work out who they fancy based on the direction the wing is flashed. The bird they like will have the wing flash directly towards them. In the other five species, it’s not so subtle and they show everyone and anyone that’ll watch.”
So, the next time you’re out on the town searching for a mate, just think about how your flamingo friends on the wetlands would do it. Maybe that crazy head bobbing dance move you do that your friends always make fun can actually work out in your favor after all? At the very least, it could help you find a flamingo mate!