Flamingos Go for Cosmetic Appeal
They primp, they preen, and they even make their feathers blush to catch they eyes of potential suitors. Flamingos make themselves prettier by dabbing oil rich in carotenoids, compounds that make their plumes even pinker, on their feathers to attract mates, solving a mystery that confounded scientists.
Researchers at Spain’s Doñana Biological Research Station saw that right after greater flamingos hatched, their parents lost their pink coloring, but later got it back without molting.
“We wondered if there was something cosmetic to consider,” ornithologist Juan Amat told Matt Kaplan of National Geographic News.
Using telescopes and a color scale, they found out that the birds had the deepest coloring during the mating season, they reported in their study published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Carotenoid-rich algae and crustaceans eaten by the flamingos give the birds’ plumage its pink hue, but the oil that they produce in glands near their tails also contains the compounds, the ornithologists found by testing samples taken from captive birds. During the months of February and October, mating season, the birds used their beaks with increasing frequency to dab the oil over their feathers, making them a deeper coral color.
The birds were probably putting the oil on for the same reason that humans apply makeup, the team concluded: so that they could look more attractive.
Donning a little tint may help more than just flamingos entice mates. "Other birds, like the bearded vulture, are known to take mud baths that leave their feathers tinged with color,” said Amat. “We now need to go and look at these species to see if they are applying cosmetics just like the flamingos do."!--/end tags-->