Flamingos form cliques within their flocks, new study finds

Chilean Flamingos get to finally enjoy the sunshine today at Washington Wetlands centre in Sunderland. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

New research shows that flamingos may be similar to popular high school students – forming cliques with like-minded individuals within their flocks. 

In the study, published in the journal Nature on March 1, scientists analyzed the personalities and social behavior of Caribbean and Chilean flamingos to examine opportunities for social support.

Data was collected from separately housed flocks of 147 Caribbean birds and 115 Chilean birds between March and July 2014. 

Researchers at the University of Exeter and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in the United Kingdom found that birds of both species tended to spend time with others whose personality was similar to their own.  

According to the scientists, this research aimed to document how personality traits (aggressive, exploratory, submissive) influence the social network structure of highly social animals in a captive environment.

In the Caribbean flock, personality was found to have an effect on social roles, meaning that individuals which displayed higher levels of aggressive, exploratory and submissive behavior had more numerous and stronger network connections. 

These birds were also more frequently observed engaging in fights and appeared to be more willing to provide social support when network associates were threatened. In contrast, the personality of the Chilean flamingos did not affect their social role metrics or behavior. However ‘losing’ fights was a more commonly recorded outcome for older birds. 

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Researchers say the results showcasing the complex nature of flamingo societies could help in the management of captive flocks.

This study also supports previous findings that flamingos have preferred social partners and are more likely to associate with birds which are similar in personality to themselves. 

A 2017 study found that flamingos form preferential relationships with other individuals in their flocks and that these associations can last over the course of a 12-month period.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.