FLAMINGO chicks will be in the pink as they move in with their new feathered family.
Since hatching in September last year, Frankie, Nico, Fran, Phil and Flo–- Washington Wetland Centre’s Chilean flamingo chicks – have been hand-reared by humans.
Now the famous five will embark on their biggest adventure yet as they leave the round-the-clock care of their surrogate dad, aviculture manager Owen Joiner, to be introduced to the centre’s flock to enhance its chances of future breeding success.
The birds now stand at nearly four-feet tall and weigh an average of three-and-a-half kilos after Owen threw himself into parental duties which included syringe-feeding the chicks every two hours to mimic how an adult flamingo feeds its young.
Owen said: “In the wild, flamingos nest in large groups, with potentially thousands of birds breeding together. These crowded conditions stimulate natural breeding by giving the birds a sense of stability and confidence.
“Our own flock of 38 Chilean flamingos failed to produce chicks themselves for the fifth season running last year, despite displaying, flirting, mating and nest-building.
“By adding these five new chicks we should give the existing flock a sense of false achievement, which will hopefully give them the confidence to breed successfully, while at the same time increasing the flock size. We hope too of course, that these young birds will breed themselves in a few years’ time.”
The flamingo chicks were transported to the North East from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s headquarters in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire while still inside their eggs.
Because they had been laid so late in the season, it was too risky to allow the flamingos to parent-rear the babies due to colder weather and lack of essential sunlight.
So the expert skills and knowledge of Owen were called upon instead, for the difficult but rewarding task of raising the chicks by hand.
“Hand rearing flamingos is a delicate matter”, said Owen. “We had dedicated volunteers and staff covering extra duties so that I could commit myself to their round-the-clock 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 mimicked that by syringe-feeding them every two-three hours with a blended mixture of baby porridge, sardines in oil and egg yolks.
“They also needed regular exercise, precise health checks and growth monitoring, to protect their delicate legs as they grew, in case they became too heavy for them.”
He added: “Thankfully the hard work and perseverance has paid off and all five have grown into strong, healthy birds. They’ve been preparing for the big move by walking the route between the duckery, where they currently live, to our flamingo enclosure on the other side of the grounds.
“Early signs are that they will integrate well with the adults, as they’ve been unfazed by meeting them so far.”
l Visitors can see the Chilean flamingo chicks in their new enclosure and can hear all about the birds during flamingo talks at 11.15am and 2.45pm, every Saturday and Sunday, from now until Sunday, September 29.