How to encourage flamingos to mate? Trick them. With mirrors.

Yesterday I was talking with one of my favourite oracles of wisdom, @elinoroberts. I was saying that I was at Flamingo Land at the weekend, and Elin told me that she’d heard something interesting about flamingo mating habits that involved mirrors. Naturally, I was intrigued and after work, I set off home to do some research on flamingo frolicking.

So it turns out that flamingos only like to have sex when there are lots of other flamingos around, and the number of flamingos in a group is positively correlated with individual reproductive success (i.e. how many chicks are reared). This causes a problem for captive flamingos. Breeding is always encouraged in zoos and parks, in order to keep the species’ numbers up. However, the group numbers in these institutions are often far smaller than wild groups, leaving the poor flamingos feeling like they just don’t have a big enough audience to get down and dirty. When this phenomenon was first widely reported in the 1970s, zoos and researchers were keen to think of ways to artificially simulate a bigger flock, which in turn would simulate breeding and nesting behaviour. Solutions include tape recordings of flamingos so that it sounds like a bigger flock, and placing mirrors inside the enclosure, so it looks like a bigger flock! Oh and apparently “the use of plastic flamingos (painted white) alone has been used to attract wading birds to desired sites.” The perfect sexy illusion.
As one paper explains:

“Flamingos are social breeders, and small groups of birds do not breed, largely due to a lack of social stimulation…
Placing mirrors around captive flocks is adequate for stimulating pre-reproductive displays, and adding birds to captive flocks sometimes stimulates breeding.”

Adding birds to captive flocks! As if the zoo are hiring them as extras in a flamingo orgy porn scene!

Joking aside, this is a really interesting phenomenon, and it’s really cool to see how conservationists have responded to an issue (lack of breeding) with these measures. The effect seems to be really profound, too. According to one paper,

“Increasing the flock size at Zoo Atlanta from 17 birds to 21 birds played a role in increasing the frequency of display activity by 48% and synchronous group displays by 100%, which resulted in a doubling in the frequency of mounts and copulation events (Stevens 1991). In captive flamingos, it has been shown that increases in group displays (which includes a vocalization component) stimulates breeding behaviour and increases reproductive success.”

So there you go. If you ever find yourself with a group of flamingos who just aren’t having enough sex, throw a few flamingo sex-dolls in, or a few random outsiders, or wall their enclosures with mirrors. They’ll be laying fertilised eggs in no time.

REFERENCES

J.M. REED (1999) The Role of Behavior in Recent Avian Extinctions and Endangerments. Conservation Biology, Pages 232–241
Volume 13, No. 2.

C. E. O’CONNELL-RODWELL, N. ROJEK, T. C. RODWELL, and P. W. SHANNON (2004) Artificially induced group display and
nesting behaviour in a reintroduced population of Caribbean Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber ruber Bird Conservation International 14:55–62.

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One thought on “How to encourage flamingos to mate? Trick them. With mirrors.

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