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You might find the pinkest flamingo to be the prettiest, but that doesn’t mean it’s friendly. In fact, the pinker a flamingo is, the more likely it is to be aggressive.
According to a 2020 study published by the University of Exeter and WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, flamingos with stronger pink coloring are more aggressive when it’s feeding time.
The study focused on lesser flamingos, the species of the bird with the largest population on earth, with their numbers worldwide reaching above 3.2 million as of 2020. However, lesser flamingos are the smallest species of flamingo physically. They’re often found in a giant flamboyance in sub-Saharan Africa around alkaline lakes.
Flamingo fact: the more pink they are, the more aggressive they are.— Absolute Anti-Burger Flamingo (@fowlflamingo) October 2, 2020
This is called toxic flaminginity.
Paul Rose, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Exeter who led the study, told ScienceDaily.com in 2020 that flamingo society is a complex one, and this is one of the many ways in which that manifests itself.
“Flamingos live in large groups with complex social structures,” Rose explained. “Color plays an important role in this. The color comes from carotenoids in their food, which for lesser flamingos is mostly algae that they filter from the water. A healthy flamingo that is an efficient feeder - demonstrated by its colorful feathers - will have more time and energy to be aggressive and dominant when feeding.”
It goes deeper than that. Because the pink coloring communicates that a flamingo is well-fed and therefore healthy, it can also make a flamingo more attractive to potential mates.
Photo by Klimamarina/Shutterstock.com
“Birds use this pink color during courtship - the pinker the flamingo, the better quality it will be as a mate,” Rose told CNN in 2020. “This pink color may also help some [flamingos] gain access to resources, but more research is needed in this last point.”
The study also found that flamingos fight over food more when it’s in a confined space. Paler flamingos are less fidgety when their food is available to them with room to roam. They know that flamingos with a stronger pink color are better equipped to take their food away from them, so eating around pinker flamingos can make them uncomfortable, to say the least.
The conclusion drawn is that it’s best to keep flamingos in captivity in wide open areas. The birds will spend more time foraging and collecting food and less time worrying that the others will attack or steal their meals out from under them.
“This research has important animal welfare implications,” Rose said to CNN. “Zoos can make small changes to how they feed their birds to improve the performance of natural behavior. All they need to do is give their flamingos more room to forage in and that improves their foraging patterns and reduces aggression, therefore keeping the birds calmer and more relaxed.
“Wild flamingos spend a large proportion of their day feeding, we can mimic this natural activity easily in the zoo,” he continued. “This is why I love doing my research at WWT Slimbridge, because they are open to new ideas and were happy to change how the birds were fed to see what may happen to the bird’s activity.”