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article imageScientists learning more about flamingos

By Elizabeth Cunningham Perkins     Aug 24, 2011 in Science
A short, fanciful flamingo film "67 Bows" by video artist Nira Pereg shows off the luridly pink birds' extraordinary crowd consciousness capabilities, an amazing trait that has drawn the attention of a flock of scientists, the NY Times reported.
According to the NY Times article that profiles new research into the "flamingo story," until recently these popular, commonplace, yet fantastical birds have been studied by artists like Pereq more than by scientists.
Pereg told the NY Times the flamingos she played with making the video in the aviary at the zoo in Karlsruhe, Germany were highly communal and ingeniously communicative -- but noisy, rude and aggressive.
The intricate mass displays thousands of flamingos synchronize in the wild have fascinated researchers, but studying the big, rapidly moving birds in their often extreme and remote natural habitats, and marking a suitable population sample, is extra-challenging, so much of the work is still exploratory, Felicity Arengo, an American Museum of Natural History flamingo expert, explained.
Flamingos reflect their stunning bright pinkness onto pond ripples.
Flamingos reflect their stunning bright pinkness onto pond ripples.
Paolo Camera
”But the tedium of the field work is offset by the glory of the sight."
So, what have scientists learned lately about any of the six species of flamingos that are usually scientifically classified in the genus Phoenicopterus (from the Greek, "Phoenix's wing")?
Researchers from the Estación Biológica de Doňana in Seville, Spain found flamingos brighten up their pink, which comes from red, orange and yellow carotenoids in the small crustaceans and algae they eat, by secreting extra pigment from their uropygial (or preen) glands and rubbing the ruddy phytochemicals on their feathers as a mating display enhancement.
A team from the psychology department of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania speculated they may have answered one of the most often asked questions -- "Why do flamingos stand on one leg?" -- by observing more flamingos resting unipedally, shifting from leg to leg, while standing in warmer water; they probably do that to regulate body temperature, the scientists concluded.
Flamingos often stand on one leg and rest their heads on their backs.
Flamingos often stand on one leg and rest their heads on their backs.
Norbert Nagel
The St. Josephs team also found flamingos prefer resting their heads on the right side of their backs, but the minority exhibiting a preference for left-sided head resting got into more fights.
According to the NY Times, some scientists theorize flamingos' gregarious flocking and complicated breeding behaviors -- the intricately choreographed, precisely synchronized, astounding spectacles these birds that are found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica are famous for -- simply help them survive through safety in numbers.
But Science Now reported in July 2007 that some flamingo breeding grounds are being threatened by industrial building.
Around the world, conservation activists and organizations are helping captive and wild flamingos survive, according to the Flamingo Resource Centre.
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