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Flamingos are often found in a large group, known as a flamboyance. It’s rare for them to be found alone in pretty much any setting. This begs the question: do flamingos have friends?
You don’t get to choose your family, but you do get to choose your friends. Friendship is a key part of the human experience and central to what makes life worth living. We are incredibly social creatures, and we need interaction to be at our healthiest and happiest. Is it the same for our favorite bird?
Do Flamingos Have Friends?
Yes, flamingos do have friends!
In 2020, a five-year study released by Behavioural Processes found that flamingos do in fact form friendships, sometimes ones that last a lifetime. The study focused on four different species of flamingo (Caribbean, Chilean, Andean, and lesser) and came to the same conclusion for each iteration of the fabulous fowl - flamingos do have friends.
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From 2012 to 2016, study leader Paul Rose watched four flamingos flamboyances held in captivity at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) Slimbridge Wetland Centre in the U.K. with a close eye.
“Our results indicate that flamingo societies are complex,” Rose said to Liz Kimbrough of Mongabay in 2020. “They are formed of long-standing friendships rather than loose, random connections … 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.”
Flamingos are notoriously monogamous, another sign of their instinct for intimate, meaningful relationships with one another. Rose discovered that while flamingo couples would spend plenty of time together, so too would small groups of same-sex flamingos, seemingly hanging out with one another like human friends would.
“Flamingos don’t simply find a mate and spend their time with that individual,” Rose explained in a press release. “Some mating couples spend much of their time together, but lots of other social bonds also exist. We see pairs of males and females choosing to ‘hang out,’ we see trios and quartets that are regularly together.”
So, what does this all mean? For humans, socialization is tantamount to our survival as a species and as individuals. Rose believes his findings prove something similar for flamingos.
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“The fact that they’re so long-lasting suggests these relationships are important for survival in the wild,” Rose told Virginia Morell of National Geographic in 2020.
In their work, Rose and his team also discovered that more bonds seemed to form among flamingos in the spring and summer. Additionally, they learned that no link was found between a bird’s health and its social life. This could mean that socialization is so important to flamingos that they do it even if they don’t feel well.
Do Some Flamingos Also Hate Each Other?
Kathy from accounting is simply annoying. She’s loud, she talks too much, she chews with her mouth open, and the smell. Oh god, the smell. Gary from marketing isn’t much better. That guy is a serial stealer, always rummaging through the fridge and snatching whatever he can get his hands on. I like some of the people I work with a lot, but I’d really love to do without some others.
Every one of us has said or thought something along those lines before. If flamingos follow similar friendship patterns as us, do they also form negative relationships? They sure do!
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Rose discovered that some flamingos avoided each other, actively seeking company from their friends and doing what they could to not interact with specific others who perhaps ruffle their feathers a bit too much. Who knows what exactly sets flamingos off from others, but it was clear that some of the birds simply did not want to be friends with others, just like humans.
What Does This All Mean?
Firstly, it’s really interesting, especially for us flamingo fanatics. Learning more about the similarities between humans and the fabulous fowl is always fun and thought provoking. But the ramifications of these discoveries could have real-world impacts on how we handle flamingos in captivity.
The study engaged with flocks sized from a bit larger than 20 flamingos to more than 140, and it was found that the bigger flamboyance, the higher the level of social interaction among the birds. With this new-found understanding of flamingo friendships, we should be wary of moving flamingos around from zoo to zoo, Rose warned.
“When moving birds from one zoo to another, we should be careful not to separate flamingos that are closely bonded to each other,” he explained in the release. “The simple lesson of this is that captive flamingo flocks should contain as many birds as reasonably possible.”
So, the next time you see a flamboyance of flamingos at your local zoo, take note of who is spending more time with whom. You might be able to figure out a few crucial pieces to the puzzle of the flamingo social dynamic. At the very least, with your knowledge that flamingos do have friends, you can convince yourself and your friends that you’ve cracked the code, whether it’s all just in your head or not.