Today, on A Moment of Science, another episode of “Lifestyles of the Pink and Feathered.” That’s right: flamingoes. You’ve probably seen them preening at your local zoo, but did you know what intrigue-filled lives our pink-plumed pals lead in captivity?
You may have already suspected that flamingoes are very social and like to hang around and nest in large groups. Still, within the group, flamingoes form pairs that feed, sleep together, and protect each other. These pairs are usually monogamous and sometimes stay together through several breeding seasons. While the majority of these couplings are between males and females, some flamingoes prefer to mate with partners of the same sex.
You might think same-sex flamingo pairs would for go nesting and raising families, but they don’t. Not only do many same-sex flamingo pairs build nests, but male pairs tend to build exceptionally large nests since they both contribute to the construction. Other pairs take over existing nests, some with eggs already in them. The same-sex female flamingo pairs, on the other hand, may lay and unsuccessfully try to hatch their own infertile eggs. Hostile nest takeovers, by the way, aren’t limited to same-sex flamingo couples. Heterosexual flamingoes do it too.
If they manage to lay or acquire eggs, some same-sex flamingoes turn to parenting. If they don’t, they abandon the nest. Anyway, parenting ability, it turns out, has nothing to do with the flamingoes’ sexual preference. Regardless of the sex of the flamingo pair, the partners take turns incubating the eggs, and then, when the eggs hatch, they take turns nursing the offspring with crop milk, a special blood-red liquid produced in their crops.