Flamingos are highly social birds who form strong pair bonds. They live in extensive flocks, as they need to be part of a large group for breeding to occur. They communicate with each other with a range of vocalizations and visual displays. In flocks of hundreds or thousands of flamingos, it is important that individual specimens can find their families.
Birds paired off for breeding have locator calls that allow them find each other. Pairs find a suitable spot to build a nest and defend their nesting territory. Both parents build the nest; once the female has laid the egg -- normally one egg but sometimes two -- both defend the nest and the egg from other pairs who want the nesting territory. They take turns incubating the egg and foraging. They recognize each other with a nasal double honk contact call, which the partner will return even if they can't see each other. Different individuals have honks with different amplitude modulations.
While the chick is still inside the egg, a few days before hatching, he will make cheeping vocalizations. Both parents learn to recognize the sound of their chick and will make low grunting vocalizations so the chick imprints on them. When the chick is 6 days to 12 days old he will leave the nest and join a crèche, a group of chicks. The parents will make their contact calls to the chick as he leaves the nest. Both parents will visit the crèche to feed their own chick but no others. The parent will call to the chick who will recognize it from up to 100 yards away. Chicks respond only to their own parents' contact calls.
Different Types of Vocalizations
Flamingos are noisy birds; flocks in flight often make honking sounds similar to those of geese. Their repertoire of sounds includes nasal honking, grunting, low gabbling and growling, as well as location calls and alarm calls to warn the flock of danger. They have highly developed hearing to recognize the individual calls of their partners and parents.
Not all flamingo communication is verbal. They perform group displays of synchronized displays that are spectacular to observe. These collective displays help to stimulate hormone production, and birds may start to pair off for breeding following these performances. Movements include wing salutes, marching, stretching the neck high and turning it from side to side.
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