Flamingo preening


Social Structure

Flamingos are very social birds. Breeding colonies of a few individual flamingos are rare, while colonies of tens of thousands of birds are common.

Flock size ranges from 2 to 340 birds with an average of 71 birds. 

Social Behavior

Flamingos devote considerable time to collective displays before, during, and after breeding.

Several hundred to several thousand flamingos are all involved simultaneously with ritualized postures and movements to synchronize breeding.

Sometimes only one display is performed, but more often, a predictable sequence of displays are carried out. Not all flamingo species perform all of the described displays, and some perform the displays slightly different than described. Flamingo displays include the following:

  • "Head-flag" involves stretching the neck and head up as high as possible, with the bill pointing upwards, and then rhythmically turning the head from one side to the other.
  • "Wing-salute" is performed by spreading the wings for a few seconds, showing their striking contrasted colors, while the tail is cocked and neck outstretched.
  • In the "inverted wing-salute", the flamingo angles its head down, cocks its tail, and orients its body so that the tail is higher than the chest. The wings are then held partially open above the back with the black flight feathers pointing up and the bend in the wing pointing down.
  • "Twist-preen" entails the bird twisting its neck back and appearing to preen quickly, with its bill behind a partly open wing.
  • "Wing-leg stretch" involves the leg and wing on the same side stretched out and to the rear.
  • "Marching" is performed by a large group of flamingos that cluster together, stand erect, and then move in quick, synchronized steps in first one direction and then another.

Individual Behavior

Flamingos spend most of the day feeding, preening (distributing oil from a gland at the base of their tail to their feathers for waterproofing), resting, and bathing.

Breeding birds feed day or night. Non-breeding birds feed at night and spend the day sleeping or involved in activities such as preening and bathing.

Flamingos spend about 15% to 30% of their time during the day preening. This is a large percentage compared to waterfowl, which preen only about 10% of the time. Flamingos preen with their bills. An oil gland near the base of the tail secretes oil that the flamingo distributes throughout its feathers.

Flamingos swim readily and bathe in shallow fresh water, submerging the whole body.

Interaction with Other Species

Two or more species of flamingos can coexist in the same area at the same time.