Flamingos form smaller cliques of friends within their larger flocks, according to a report published in the journal Scientific Reports. The study was carried out by researchers at both the University of Exeter and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. The researchers studied 147 Caribbean flamingos and a smaller group of 115 Chilean birds between March and July 2014. In both groups, birds with similar traits tended to befriend one another, becoming increasingly aggressive or submissive as their bonds grew stronger.
The research is significant because it suggests that the social lives of flamingos are intricate and that the relationships within groups of the birds are crucial to their wellbeing and fertility. The findings also have implications for conservation schemes, as established relationships between flamingos are recommended to be retained in order to ensure breeding potential is maximised. The study also indicates the need for a deeper understanding of social lives of captive animals. Flamingos, the study’s focus, are particularly difficult to study in the wild because of the vast size of their flocks and their unpredictable movements.
The study found significant differences between Caribbean and Chilean flamingo populations. In the Caribbean flock, where social status was defined by personality traits, more aggressive and dominant flamingos formed stronger bonds. However, in the smaller Chilean flock, personality traits had no bearing on social standing, possibly because of disruptions to their breeding patterns or smaller population size. The researchers recommend further studies with other groups of flamingos.
The new report into flamingos is one of many recent scientific investigations into the social behaviour of animals, particularly with a view to understanding the conditions required to ensure survival of endangered species. Researchers have also analysed the cooperative behaviour of termites and have investigated the role of social learning in the acquisition of skills by some bird species. Other researchers have analysed the face-to-face political skills of chimpanzees in order to better understand how humans evolved an ability to resolve differences through negotiation.