Woodland Park Zoo’s Chilean flamingos have once again enjoyed a successful breeding season. Three fluffy gray chicks, two males and a female, joined the flock in recent weeks.
The chicks hatched in the exhibit between August 31 and September 5, 2012. Each one was incubated by its parents for 27 to 31 days. Both the male and female incubate, taking turns to keep the egg warm.
All three chicks and their parents are currently off-exhibit in a nursery area to improve the chances of the chicks’ survival. In 2010, two chicks hatched in the exhibit died for unknown reasons, and keepers have also observed non-parenting flamingos being aggressive toward chicks.
As a result, it was decided to give the new families the opportunity to raise their chicks in a quieter setting. Although the zoo has succcessfully hand-reared ten flamingo chicks since 2008, it’s infinitely better to have the parent birds raise their own young.
For starters, it’s nutritionally superior: Both male and female flamingos produce a nutrient-rich fluid called crop milk in their upper digestive tracts. They feed their young frequently. The combination of frequent feeding and flamingo-chick-specific food bests even the efforts of the most industrious and devoted flamingo keeper.
Moreover, allowing the flamingos to raise their own chicks simply makes them better, more experienced parents, which will help them raise future young. The chicks themselves will benefit behaviorally from being raised by their own kind.
One of the three chicks in this little creche is actually enjoying the attentions of three parents! Typically, a male and female will tend only their own chick, never feeding that of another pair. Keepers, however, found that one of the chicks was being claimed by one female and two males. As there didn’t seem to be a lot of wrangling between the males and the female didn’t mind, the extra feeding and protection provided to this chick would only help and certainly not harm.
That’s why you’ll see seven adults and three chicks in the photos.
The three chicks are still at the gray, downy, plump puffball stage. The red pigment in the crop milk they consume is currently being stored in their livers, ready and waiting to daub their adult plumage as it grows in; the chicks will be fully pink by the time they are two or three. (Adult flamingoes’ pink color is likewise provided by pigments in their food.)
The chicks and their parents will all be returned to the flock once the chicks are taller, stronger, and more fully developed.