Zookeeper, Geraldine Murphy, has had her hands full over the last few weeks as she has been hand-rearing the first ever Chilean Flamingos to hatch at Belfast Zoo!
Belfast Zoo has been home to flamingos since the zoo first opened in 1934, but the zoo first became home to Chilean Flamingos in 2010. However, in all this time, the birds never laid eggs, despite attempts by the zoo team to encourage breeding behavior.
The team installed mirrors in the enclosure to make the birds think that they were part of a much larger flock, but without success. Last year, keepers built artificial nests consisting of mounds of mud measuring 30 to 60 centimetres in height and installed ‘dummy eggs’, produced by a local wood turner. This had instant success with the birds beginning to display natural courtship behaviours, and soon eggs began to appear on the nests.
Despite the initial excitement, the eggs were infertile but it gave the team hope, which became a reality when this year’s eggs hatched.
Zookeeper, Geraldine, stepped in to hand-rear the young chicks, “Popcorn hatched on 17 September and Peanut hatched on 5 October. We monitored the behavior of the adult birds and unfortunately, due to their inexperience at being parents, we had to step in to hand-rear the chicks on this occasion! Until flamingo chicks are able to feed themselves, they rely on ‘crop milk’ which is a nutritious liquid produced by both parents. When they first hatched they needed to be hand-fed six times a day with a substitute that has been developed to provide all of the essential vitamins and nutrients. The pair therefore came home with me every evening and back to the zoo with me each day. As they get older, they will need fewer feeding during the day and when they are old enough they will be reintroduced to the rest of the flock.”