Chilean Flamingo Chick Fostered by American Flamingo Pair

This year, the Oklahoma City Zoo welcomed a new flamingo chick to the Zoo’s animal family. Over the past several years, Zoo guests have been introduced to several American flamingo chicks through the Zoo’s social media platforms and public viewing opportunities at the Island Life flamingo habitat. This adorable little flamingo chick, however, is the first Chilean flamingo to hatch at the Zoo since 2013!

In late August, caretakers discovered that a bonded pair of Chilean flamingos in the Children Zoo’s habitat were protecting their nest, containing a newly laid egg. Considering the Chilean flamingos hadn’t laid any eggs in recent breeding seasons and failed to incubate consistently when there were eggs laid, it was decided that the egg would be incubated artificially at the Zoo’s avian breeding building off public view. The egg was the only fertile egg laid this breeding season. 

The Zoo’s bird department has a long history of hand-rearing both American and Chilean flamingos. In most recent years, the bird care team has found success in partial parent rearing of flamingo chicks with the adult American flamingos, both in the Island Life habitat and off public view in the breeding building. Partial hand-rearing means the chick will spend days with the flock and will be brought inside at night. This technique enables flamingo chicks to benefit from parent rearing and group socialization, while teaching them to be successful parents in the future. 

In the past, the American flamingos have either been in the middle of breeding season or at the very end of their season when we have introduced newly hatched chicks to the flock. Unfortunately, Chilean flamingos and American flamingos have different breeding seasons at the Zoo, so partial parent rearing wasn’t an option for the new chick. In late September when the chick hatched, the American flamingos were no longer in nesting mode and had already abandoned their nest mounts. Determined to find flamingo foster parents for the chick, the bird caretakers chose to modify the partial parent rearing technique.

On September 24, 2020, at 12:45 p.m. caretakers introduced the Chilean flamingo chick to the American flamingo flock, placing the chick on an abandoned nest mound in hopes that a bonded flamingo pair would show interest. The chick, less than 24 hours old, was standing and vocalizing on the mound. Despite its calls, the flock didn’t show any interest in caring for the chick. Caretakers closely monitored all interactions and observed younger birds in the flock show slight curiosity in the chick, while previous, successful foster parents began showing interest after an hour had passed. Yet, none of the birds displayed the rearing behaviors that caretakers were looking for; behaviors that had been observed in previous foster parent matching scenarios. To ensure the chick didn’t get too cold, the caretakers decided the first introduction had reached its end after an hour and a half and removed the chick from the nest mound. Using their observations from the first introduction session, the care team identified a previously successful parenting pair to be transferred from the Island Life habitat to the breeding building. Because the pair showed a slight interest in the chick previously, caretakers felt confident that they could begin introductions as soon as the next day.

The following three days were crucial. Caretakers meticulously monitored and recorded all observations of interactions between the chick and the American flamingo foster parents. Positive interactions of nuzzling, vocalizing and feeding attempts were noted, however, neither bird would remain with the chick for a long period of time. Throughout the observation period, caretakers syringe fed the chick multiple times a day, as it had daily sessions with the adults. At night, the chick was housed separately. 

On day four, the parental instincts of the foster parents were evident, as both parents began feeding, nurturing and protecting the chick. In the days following, the chick continued to spend time with the pair, while caretakers monitored positive interactions and weighed the chick twice daily to ensure healthy growth and development.

At day 42, the little chick became old enough and big enough to be remain with its foster parents 24/7. Today, at nearly two months old, the Chilean flamingo chick is thriving! The chick is now being fed by its parents and eating flamingo pellets on its own. It’s also started taking baths, preening and socializing normally. Because of weather parameters, however, the chick and its family will remain off public view until temperatures are appropriate for the chick to be moved to the flamingo habitat. 

American and Chilean flamingos differ in appearance, both in height and feather coloration. They also differ in location where they can be found in the wild. American flamingos are found in the West Indies, Yucatan and along the Galapagos Islands, while Chilean flamingos are native to South America.  

Guests will be able to visit the Chilean flamingo chick in the spring in the Children’s Zoo. But for now, guests can check out the Zoo’s social media for updates on this flamingo family. 

-- Holly Ray, assistant curator of birds

Photo credit: Andrea Johnson

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