Twenty-three adorable Flamingo chicks have hatched at Chester Zoo. The eleven Chilean and twelve Caribbean Flamingos started to hatch on June 9, with the last of new arrivals emerging from its egg on July 5.
Each chick hatched to a different female, as Flamingos are monogamous birds and only lay a single egg each year.
Mark Vercoe, Assistant Team Manager of the bird team at Chester Zoo said, “It’s been a really successful breeding season for the Flamingos and we’re delighted with all of the new chicks. They look like fluffy cotton wool balls with little wobbly jelly legs at the moment and it’ll be several months until their pink feathers start to show.
“For a few days after hatching the youngsters tend to stay really close to their parents but they soon grow in confidence and some have already started to wade in the water around their island independently.”
The Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) is a large species at 110–130 cm (43–51 in). It is closely related to the American Flamingo (Caribbean) and Greater Flamingo, with which it was sometimes considered conspecific. The species is listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.
It is native to South America, from Ecuador and Peru, to Chile and Argentina, and east to Brazil. Like all Flamingos, it lays a single chalky white egg on a mud mound.
The Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is a large species that was formerly considered conspecific with the Greater Flamingo, but that treatment is now widely viewed as incorrect due to a lack of evidence. It is also known as the American Flamingo. In Cuba, it is also known as the Greater Flamingo. It is the only Flamingo that naturally inhabits North America.
The Caribbean species is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
Flamingos often stand on one leg, the other leg tucked beneath the body. The reason for this behaviour is not fully understood. Some research indicates that standing on one leg may allow the birds to conserve more body heat, given that they spend a significant amount of time wading in cold water.
Flamingos filter-feed on brine shrimp and blue-green algae. Their beaks are specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they eat, and are uniquely used upside-down. The filtering of food items is assisted by hairy structures called lamellae, which line the mandibles, and the large rough-surfaced tongue.
Flamingos are very social birds; they live in colonies whose population can number in the thousands. These large colonies are believed to serve three purposes: avoiding predators, maximizing food intake, and using scarce suitable nesting sites more efficiently.
Both the male and the female contribute to building the nest, and to defending the nest and egg.
After the chicks hatch, the only parental expense is feeding. Both the father and the mother feed their chicks with a kind of crop milk, produced in glands lining the whole of the upper digestive tract (not just the crop). The milk contains fat, protein, and red and white blood cells.
For the first six days after the chicks hatch, the adults and chicks stay in the nesting sites. At around seven to twelve days old, the chicks begin to move out of their nests and explore their surroundings. When they are two weeks old, the chicks congregate in groups, called "microcrèches", and their parents leave them alone. After a while, the microcrèches merge into "crèches" containing thousands of chicks. Chicks that do not stay in their crèches are vulnerable to predators.
Chester Zoo now has more than 100 Flamingos in its Chilean flock and over 100 in its Caribbean colony.
Through its wildlife conservation campaign, “Act for Wildlife”, Chester Zoo is helping to save highly threatened species, around the world, from extinction. Find out more at www.actforwildlife.org.uk