Things are looking pretty pink at the zoo with the arrival of four new Chilean flamingos. Our new ladies joined a flock of one female and seven males in the exhibit just west of the spider monkeys and lemur. The four came from the San Antonio (Texas) Zoo, and were transported by our staff who traveled to San Antonio and brought the birds back in a mini-van. All of the birds hatched at the San Antonio Zoo, and range in age from 2 to 10 years old. Our males are all fairly young birds, but our female is 40-something (you know it's impolite to ask a lady her age).
You probably wouldn't give transporting a flamingo too much thought since you'll likely never have to do it, but you might be surprised to learn that we transported the birds in cardboard wardrobe boxes lined with bubble wrap. Sounds kind of odd, but experience has taught us (and other zoos that transport these delicate birds) that this is the perfect way to keep the birds calm and keep them from damaging their wings and feathers when travelling. A nice cozy box of just the right size allows some movement, but not too much, and prevents stress and injury. The birds arrived about a month ago and completed their standard quarantine period with flying colors. Keepers released them into their new yard late last week and their arrival was met with great excitement. The new girls were very excited to meet their new beaus, but the local gents were more than a little surprised by the arrival of interlopers. They soon got over their inhibitions, and before long, they were all splashing around in the pond. That was exciting to us as our birds have always been a little hesitant about getting in the pond. Perhaps they will learn some fun new habits from their new friends.
Chilean flamingos are typically a paler pink than some of the other species of flamingos, which can range from white to intense shades of pink or salmon. Flamingos are one of the few animals that can convert the carotenoids (orange and yellow pigments) in their food to help color their feathers. Flamingos feed on aquatic invertebrates, and the invertebrates found in marine (salt water) environments are richer in pigments than those found in freshwater. Because Chilean flamingos inhabit freshwater lakes at high altitudes, they take in less pigment and have a reduced ability to metabolize the carotenoids, and are thus paler in color. Any flamingo that doesn't consume the carotenoids in their diet will eventually fade in color, regardless of what shade of pink they started out as.
Another fascinating bit of flamingo trivia is that each species of flamingo has a slightly different beak structure so they can filter different sized food out of the water without competing with a different flamingo species standing beside them. The bent shape of a flamingo bill is very intentional in design. It allows the bird to open its mouth while still maintaining the same size opening along the length of the bill. In other words, it isn't open wider at the tip than at the base like other bird species. This is important when the flamingo is filter feeding, as the sieve-like filaments inside the edge of the bill catch tiny one-celled animals as they suck water in through the opening.
Learn more about how flamingos filter-feed by watching our birds feed, or by checking out the informational signs at the zoo. It is a fascinating adaptation for survival.
And when you do visit, you can distinguish the younger birds in the flock by their gray head feathers. These are the last feathers to change to pink, and do so as the animals age.
Special thanks for our new birds go out to Steve and Ann Burgess and family, who covered the purchase price of the birds. Flamingos like to live in large flocks and only breed well when flocks reach a certain number of birds, but at the price of flamingos, it is difficult to afford them! We have been building our flock slowly over the last few years to replace birds lost to old age, so it is exciting to see a flock of a dozen out in their lush green yard.
Come see our new pink, along with all our other summer additions soon. And don't forget that the Fourth of July is just around the corner and that we will be open late next Thursday for holiday festivities on the west green; the municipal band concert at 8 p.m., followed by a great venue to watch the community fireworks on the fairground parking lot. Remember to leave your pets and personal fireworks at home if you plan to watch from the zoo!
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.