Reese, L., Baumgartner, K., von Fersen, L. et al. 2020. Feather corticosterone measurements of greater flamingos living under different forms of flight restraint. Animals 10(4), 605.
Deflighting zoo birds is a practice that receives increasing criticism due to its presumed incompatibility with animal welfare. To our knowledge, this is the first approach to address this problem in a scientific way. To do this, we compared feather corticosterone (CORTf) from Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus, n = 151) of different flight status (i.e., pinioned, feather clipped, airworthy) from twelve different zoological institutions. To complement the hormone measurements, behavioral observations (scan samplings) were conducted prior to feather sampling within the presumed time frame of feather growth. We hypothesized that CORTf of the deflighted flamingos would differ from CORTf of their airworthy conspecifics. No significant difference in CORTf was found between the three groups, and our hypothesis was rejected. However, the impact of the institution itself (i.e., the housing conditions) proved to be the most dominant variable (variance between the institutions = 53.82%). Due to high variability, the behavioral observations were evaluated descriptively but did not give rise to doubt the findings in CORTf. Therefore, we assume that the method of flight restraint of Greater Flamingos does not have a measurable effect on CORTf. We consider this model for evaluating animal welfare of zoo birds a useful tool and provide ideas for further adjustments for consecutive studies.