A preening oil which flamingos use to waterproof their feathers also brightens them up, says a new study. Applied most frequently and vigorously just ahead of the breeding season, it seems the birds, like humans, use make-up to attract a mate!
Rubbed onto the neck, breast and back, the pigments in the waxy substance brighten the signature pink hue of their plumage.
And just like in the human world, the female of the species uses make-up more often, reports the Daily Mail.
The fascinating insight into the life of the greater flamingo, the largest of the species, comes from a three-year study of birds living in the wetlands of southern Spain, according to the journal Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.
The researchers noticed that many birds deliberately rubbed their cheeks against glands near the base of their tails and then immediately onto their neck, breast and back feathers.
Tests showed that the oil rich in pigments called carotenoids. The same compounds were found in the birds’ feathers. The main source of the birds’ pink colour comes from pigments in the food they eat.
But the make-up enhances the effect, with the birds that applied it the most becoming the most colourful, researcher Juan Amat from Donana Biological Station in Seville, Spain said: “The rubbing is time-consuming. And the more frequently the birds practise it, the more coloured they appear.”
“If the birds stop rubbing, plumage colour fades in a few days because carotenoids bleach quickly in the sunlight.”
What is more, the birds applied the oil much more frequently in the months when they were looking for a mate.
Professor Matthew Anderson of Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in the U.S. said: “It now appears that flamingos may be paying as much attention to their vibrant colouration as we are.”