A team of scientists from the University of Exeter in the UK found that the pinkest feathered flamingos were more aggressive than their paler rivals when fighting over food.
Pink feathers, an indicator of good health in flamingos
The researchers likewise suggest that the bright pink feathers are an indicator of good health but such plumage is only seen in lesser flamingos. University of Exeter’s zoologist and lead author of the study Dr. Paul Rose told the Guardian that flamingos live in big groups with complex social structures. The color of flamingos comes from the pigments called carotenoids, which are found in their food. For lesser flamingoes, they mostly eat algae that they filter from the water.
Rose added that an efficient feeder and healthy flamingo as shown in the color of its feathers will have more energy and time to be dominant and aggressive when feeding. The group studied the lesser flamingo species at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, one of the world’s largest and most respected wetland conservation organizations working internationally to improve and safeguard the wetlands for wildlife.
During their study, they analyzed the three types of feeding arrangements for flamingos: a spacious outdoor feeding pool, a larger indoor feeding pool, and an indoor feeding bowl. The result of their experiment shows that flamingos pushed each other when trying to get to the food. The pinkest in the group appears to be more aggressive compared to their paler rivals.
Feeding flamingoes and the rates of aggression
When it came to feeding the flamingos in the outdoor pool, though, the birds spent half as much time in displaying aggression. The authors found no difference between females and males in the rates of aggression and feeding. The team’s research, which was published in the journal Ethology, states that captive birds need to be fed over a wide space where possible.
Rose went on to say that when birds have to crowd together when getting their food, they would squabble more. As a result, they spend less time feeding. However, it is not always possible to feed flamingos outdoors as lesser of their kind only weight about 2kg. They are also native to Africa. Captive flamingoes in places like the UK, for instance, would get too cold if they spend outdoors during winter.
The study emphasized the importance of feeding flamingos in as wide an area as possible. Having a spacious outdoor feeding area for their species would lessen excess aggression and encourage natural foraging patterns. The group likewise found that lesser flamingoes display what they refer to as the “flush of color” which means they are ready to breed. Then, they regain their pale hues when they already become parents.
Flamingos: facts and statistics
With their strongly hooked bills and bright feathers, flamingos are among the most easily recognized water birds. Tens of thousands of them can live together in one colony. Generally, they are non-migratory birds but a colony may relocate because of changes in the water level where they live or the pressures of climate change.
Flamingos are also the oldest species of birds with a fossil that dates back 30 to 50 million years. According to Flamingos World, there are six known species of flamingoes out there and they differ from other types of birds because of the length of their legs. Although they are not always seen flying, they can certainly fly just like other birds. They can take off rapidly and fly up to 35 miles per hour. They can likewise fly hundreds of miles per day between different locations to survive and find food but most of their flight time happens at night, which is why many of us never see them fly. The feathers under their wings called flight feathers are black but can only be seen when they are flying.
In the wild, flamingos can live a long life of 25 to 30 years and up to 40 years if in captivity. This was based on research that shows the presence of bacteria in the water that killed a number of flamingos in certain areas. The previous research also shows that global warming prevented sufficient rain in some places. Other researchers learned that flamingos don’t do well in captivity if there are no members around. This is the reason why the zoo often has 15 to 25 flamingos on display.
Amusement park SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment published that the most numerous South American flamingo species is the Chilean flamingo. Their estimated population is not more than 200,000. Meanwhile, the estimated population of the Andean flamingo is 33,927 but their number is decreasing. The Caribbean flamingo was at only 21,500 although their number has increased since 1956 to a current estimate of 850,000 to 880,000 birds.
No flamingo species is currently considered as endangered by the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species but the lesser James and Chilean flamingos are considered near threatened because their numbers are decreasing or small, the IUCN said.
Total extant bird species
Based on the total extant bird species, however, one in eight bird species is threatened with extinction. The 2018 State of the World’s Birds report by BirdLife International states that 40% of the world’s nearly 11,000 bird species are in decline, 222 species (2%) of which are critically endangered, while 461 species (4%) are endangered. About 8,417 bird species or 77% of the world’s bird population are in the least concern global conservation status, 786 (7%) are vulnerable, and 1,017 (9%) are near threatened.
Of improving bird welfare
Based on the team’s findings, Rose suggested small changes to improve the birds' welfare at WWT, including creating more outdoor space for the water birds. The keepers at WWT Slimbridge tried them out and the change resulted in a more relaxed and pinker flamingo. “This study is a great example of why I love working with WWT Slimbridge,” he added.
Zoos can make use of the University of Exeter’s findings on how they keep their animals so that it will make a big and beneficial difference to animal behavior.