Nasty in pink: Flamingos with brighter feathers are more aggressive than others, study says

Instead of "pretty in pink," perhaps it should be "pugnacious in pink."

Flamingos with brighter feathers are more aggressive than their pale counterparts when it comes to fighting for food, a new study says.

The research, published in the journal Ethology, notes the birds with brighter feathers demonstrated aggressive behavior, a sign that they are in good health and are often ready to breed. When food is available in small areas, the brighter birds are more likely to squabble and push other members of the flock around.

(Credit: University of Exeter)

(Credit: University of Exeter)

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“Flamingos live in large groups with complex social structures,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Paul Rose, of the University of Exeter, in a statement. “Color plays an important role in this. The color comes from carotenoids in their food, which for lesser flamingos is mostly algae that they filter from the water."

The researchers looked at the birds in situations where an indoor feeding bowl, a larger indoor feeding bowl and food in a large pool outside were observed. In the larger pool outside, there was less aggression seen compared to the indoor feeding bowls.

“When birds have to crowd together to get their food, they squabble more and therefore spend less time feeding,” Rose added.

An unknown number of lesser flamingos at Slimbridge Wetland Center was used for the study.

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Rose and the other researchers came up with a scoring system of one (mainly white) to four (mainly pink) to come up with their observations. There were no differences seen between male and female flamingoes.

“A healthy flamingo that is an efficient feeder – demonstrated by its colorful feathers – will have more time and energy to be aggressive and dominant when feeding," Rose added.

(iStock)

The research has implications for zoos and bird sanctuaries around the world, although Rose admits it's not always possible to feed these flamingos outdoors.

“Where possible, creating spacious outdoor feeding areas can encourage natural foraging patterns and reduce excess aggression," Rose explained. “This research shows that zoos don’t have to make huge changes to how they keep their animals to make a big, beneficial difference to animal behavior.”

In May, pictures showed a vast swath of flamingos flocking to Mumbai, India, amid the coronavirus lockdown.

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Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this story.