If you have visited the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s American flamingo habitat at Island Life lately, you may have noticed some new additions.
Last year, the bird department successfully hand-reared four American flamingo chicks, with the oldest chick being partially hand-reared, meaning staff members shared parental duties with the chick’s flamingo foster parents. Now, all four birds have fully integrated themselves into the flock and reside at the American flamingo habitat.
Over the summer, guests were able to view the partial hand-reared chick in the yard with the flock and were able to watch it grow and develop, which was something new and exciting for the bird department and Zoo guests. During its time with the flamingo flock, this chick was fed a substance called crop milk, a reddish nutrient rich regurgitated meal provided by both of its foster parents.
At the same time, our three flamingo chicks that were traditionally hand-reared were fed a specialized liquid diet by syringe. This formula, made by the animal caretakers, was a blended combination of fish, krill, rice cereal, egg yolk, vitamins and water and was fed two to six times a day, for up to 72 days depending on the age requirement of that particular bird.
Proper nutrition is essential for flamingos because their diet consists of different types of organic pigments called carotenoids which give flamingos their vibrant pink feather hues. If you look at all of the flamingo chicks now, you will notice that the partial hand-reared bird has abundantly more pink coloration than the other chicks. That is because even though, the keeper made formula is adequate in nutritional balance and is supplemented with essential vitamins - it is highly likely that the crop milk yielded a larger amount of carotenoids.
During the hand-rearing process all four birds were housed together at night. The fully hand-reared birds were provided supervised exercise time during the day to maintain proper growth and development. The partial hand-reared bird was reintroduced every morning to the flock without any problems and was able to learn how to self-feed quicker because of the time spent learning from the adult flamingos. The fact that the partial hand-reared bird had already integrated into the flamingo flock helped the other birds have a smooth and easy transition into joining the flock. All birds are doing fantastic.
These four birds along with a juvenile flamingo that hatched in 2017 are not yet accustomed to our winter weather and are viewable in the flamingo habitat when temperatures are above 40 degrees. The rest of the flock can be visited as long as temperatures are above 25 degrees.
-Holly Ray, assistant curator
Photos by Erica McCoy