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Flamingo Mating Ritual Revealed

A new study has revealed that flamingos have 136 different moves that they can use to attract a new mate. The more complicated their display, the more likely they are to succeed.

100 wild flamingos were observed performing their courtship rituals. Each bird was studied individually and their sexual display complexity (SDC) then calculated. Their score was based on the different postures used and the number of transitions between those postures. The complexity of their displays increased as the flamingos aged but peaked when they reached 20 years old. Then things started to go downhill!

Serial Monogamists

Flamingos are monogamous but only for one season after which they seek a new mate. This means that they have to engage in a mating ritual every year. Using up to eight different postures and 17 transitions, the birds put on a show to garner the attention of potential new partners.

The Mating Ritual

The researchers from Centre de Recherche de la Tour du Valat, a research centre for the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands, found that a high level of SDC increased the probability of breeding. All sexually mature birds are involved in the group displays and it was found that a high SDC also improved a bird’s chances of securing a nesting site. The mating ritual is analogous to song complexity in songbirds where males have been shown to gain superior territories when they are able to demonstrate a high complexity of song.

The flamingos studied were aged between 4 and 37 years. Researchers felt that the birds’ motor performance improved as they matured and their displays improved with it, but performance peaked at 20 years of age.

Cosmetic Enhancements

Remarkably, flamingos also use make-up to improve their looks! Their preferred colour is pink! A three-year study has revealed that the preening oil used to waterproof their feathers is also employed as a cosmetic enhancement. When rubbed onto the neck, breast and back, the pigments in this substance brighten the pink hue of their impressive plumage. The oil was seen to be applied most vigorously just before the breeding season.

This amazing insight into the life of the flamingo is the result of a study of birds living in the wetlands of southern Spain. The researchers found that, as well as smoothing and tidying their feathers, many birds deliberately rubbed their cheeks against glands near the base of their tails and then immediately onto their neck, breast and back feathers.

Tests showed that the preening oil is high in pigments called carotenoids. The same compounds are found in the birds' feathers. The flamingo’s colour mainly comes from the food that they consume.

More to Learn?

Who would have thought that flamingos could exhibit such complex behaviour? These striking birds are truly fascinating and further research may reveal even more amazing facts about their lives.


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