Helping Flamingo Chicks Grow Into Their Feathers

If you’ve visited the Zoo this summer, you may have noticed that our flock of American flamingos were nesting!   

The flamingos constructed their intricate nest mounds out of natural materials found throughout their habitat including dirt, leaves, twigs and feathers. After the flamingos laid their eggs, I and other caretakers noticed that they were not being attentive to their nests, so we decided to intervene.  Fortunately, the collective caretaking team had prior experience in hand-raising both American and Chilean flamingos, so we were well prepared to hand-raise the two American flamingo chicks.

 The two eggs were hatched in an incubator off exhibit in the Zoo’s overwintering building. The incubator contained wet bulbs, which helped to maintain a consistent temperature for the eggs. Both birds hatched in mid July – 28 days after their incubation began. The two chicks are 5 days apart in age. 

Right after the chicks hatched, they were hand-fed a specialized liquid diet from a syringe. The freshly made formula combines fish, krill (small shrimp-like crustaceans), rice cereal, egg yolk, vitamins and water. The formula is fed to the chicks two to six times per day for up to 72 days! The amount of formula feedings decreased as the birds begin to learn how to eat on their own and maintain the appropriate weight gain necessary for their particular developmental stage.

During the hand rearing process, the chicks will gradually transition to different enclosures with various surfaces (sandy, grassy, muddy, etc.) the flamingos will encounter in their natural environment. The chicks are also walked twice a day to provide adequate exercise needed for weight management, leg conditioning and overall healthy development.

One of the most important parts of the hand rearing process is documentation. Behavioral observations, developmental changes and other data are continuously being documented on hand rearing files for each bird. Proper documentation helps to ensure proper communication between staff members, provide exceptional care to the animals in our collection and helps us to monitor the overall development of each individual. 

The chicks will continue to be cared for by the Bird department until they are 1-year-old. During that time period, we will slowly begin introducing them to the American flamingo flock. 

Hand-rearing flamingos, both now and previously, has been the most rewarding experience in my career.​ I’m looking forward to watching our two chicks grow into their own pink  feathers! 

– Holly Ray, animal caretaker 

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