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Flamingo success for Belfast Zoo

After years of waiting, Belfast Zoo can finally celebrate their first ever successful Chilean flamingo hatchings.

Although Belfast Zoo has been home to flamingos since opening in 1934, Chilean flamingos did not arrive until 2010.  The birds never laid eggs in this time, however, despite attempts by the zoo team to encourage breeding behavior.

In an effort to make the birds think they were part of a much bigger flock, the team even tried installing mirrors within the birds’ enclosure, but without success. Then, last year, keepers built artificial nests and installed ‘dummy eggs’ and had instant success. The birds began 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.  Popcorn arrived on 17 September and Peanut hatched on 5 October. However, a decision was made to hand-rear the young chicks due to the adult birds inexperience at being parents.

Zoo keeper, Geraldine Murphy explains; “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.”

Geraldine continues “Flamingos are iconic birds with their long legs, long neck and beautiful pink plumage.  However, what is not common knowledge is that flamingos are not born with their stunning and iconic pink colour.  When Popcorn and Peanut first hatched they were covered in fluffy white feathers which gradually darkened to grey over the first few days.  The pair will not moult to their adult feathers until they are about a year and a half old.  In fact, adult flamingos’ pink colour comes from carotenoid pigments which they consume as part of their diet of molluscs, crustaceons, insects and algae.”

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