FIVE feathered friends have become the first flamingos to be hand-reared at Washington Wetlands Centre.
The Chilean flamingo chicks are receiving round-the-clock care from aviculture expert Owen Joiner, rather than being parent-reared.
As a result of being laid late in the season, it is too risky to set them free into the colder weather, where they would miss essential sunlight.
WWT Washington’s avicultural manager, Owen, explained: “Hand-rearing flamingos is a delicate matter.
“We have dedicated volunteers and staff covering extra duties, so that I can commit myself to their full-time care.
“Flamingo parents feed their young with a type of rich saliva, full of all the goodness needed for the chicks to develop.
“Here, I mimic that by syringe-feeding them every two to three hours with a blended mixture of baby porridge, sardines in oil and egg yolks.
“At this time of the year, lack of sunlight is an issue too. Because the chicks need vitamin D in order to grow and develop properly, but can’t be exposed to the cold for too long.
“I’ve been supervising sunbathing sessions for them when the weather is warm enough.”
The young birds were transported in their shells from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s headquarters in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, to Wearside, ready to be hatched.
The centre will allow the birds to join up with the rest of their resident flamingos next spring, with the hope of increasing their flock.
“Our own flock of 38 Chilean flamingos failed to produce eggs for the fifth season running this year, despite displaying, flirting, mating and nest-building,” said Owen.
WWT’s captive animal manager, Graham Clarkson, added: “Chilean flamingos are a near-threatened species and conservation breeding programmes such as this help develop vital skills for re-introduction projects for endangered birds.”
Flamingos nest in large groups and live in even larger colonies.
Colonies can home between 10,000 and one million birds at a time.
Flamingos can live to more than 60 years old.