Friday, March 11, 2011

Flamingo Friday: Top Billing

The zoo’s flamingos are always a bit testy with one another—although “testy” is maybe not the best word to describe a state that vacillates, within minutes, between honking hostility and amicable uninterest. Flamingos’ squabbles arise and dissipate with equal suddenness—and, as far as I can tell, neither their flashes of annoyances nor their return to peacefulness have any clear cause.

["She was too old for Yentl!"]

I have, however, noted a correlation between an increase in their beaky behavior and the heightening of the breeding season. Some flamingos are already sitting in the dirt of their enclosure and arranging the dirt and grass around them domestically, suggesting that soon there will be nesting mounds built and eggs laid within them. And while I still don’t understand what provokes flamingos to switch from standing sleepily on one leg to ruffling their feathers and waving their beaks threateningly at one another, I can report that whatever it is is happening more frequently now.

I can also report that the beaky behavior I’ve observed is not restricted to birds of a single sex; the zoo’s flamingos are banded on the left leg for females and right leg for males, so I can often keep an eye on who’s beaking whom—and when I’ve been looking, I haven’t seen either sex bill more than the other. (I haven’t, however, done a careful, recorded study, so there may be associations that I simply haven’t noticed.)

[a three-way standoff]

Whatever prompts it, and whoever does it, it’s a damn noisy behavior. It’s hard to describe the sound to those who have never heard flamingos squawking in indignation; it’s sort of like a combination of the resonance of goose honks, the shrillness of a rooster’s crow, and the rhythm of southern-Italian dialect at the point in the conversation when the hand gestures get really intense.

If that doesn’t make you want to visit your local zoo, I don’t know what could.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


biobabbler said...

Delightful. Such interesting photographs--interesting angles, etc. Last time I was at the San Diego Zoo, it was fun to see these confrontations, where they were honking, bobbing heads (if I remember correctly), and trying to be the tallest. It reminded, also, what the phrase "ruffle his feathers" comes from, 'cause they DID fluff up when irritated. =)

Anca said...

I'm heading to the Detroit Zoo as soon as the temperatures are above freezing for more than a minute a day.

Good Ol' Ant said...

Excellent descriptions about "beaky behavior" and testiness in flamingoland. Your essays are always entertaining and informative, and I am always learnung something new. For example, in your explanation of the sounds that flamingos make, I discovered new things. Who knew that flamingos were (at least on one side of their family) Sicilian? I would have suspected Calabrese, maybeb but-----

Good Ol' Ant said...

Er, that was supposed to be "maybe, but----"

It's hard to type with a dog on your lap. Sorry.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Biobabbler: it's true--they ruffle up their feathers like crazy! I'm not sure if that's an attempt to look bigger or just an automatic, physiological reaction to being really irritated. (Certainly it's the latter with me.)

@Michiganders generally: sorry about the awful temperatures there! But remember that in DC we pay for the accelerated warmth with, well, accelerated warmth, all summer (which apparently starts here in mid-April).

--And it *is* hard to type with a dog on your lap. I wish I had a dog to make typing difficult... As for the flamingos' particular area of origin--well, could be any number of southern-Italian regions; I can't tell whether they drop the last vowel in their words, so I can't say for sure if they're Sicilian.

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