A bumper brood of hand-reared Chilean flamingo chicks are keeping staff and volunteers busy at a North East nature reserve.
Following last year’s pioneering project at the WWT Washington Wetland Centre, which saw juvenile flamingos Frankie, Nico, Phil, Flo and Fran successfully integrated into the reserve’s adult flock, aviculture expert Owen Joiner has now taken the role of father figure to a new clutch of fluffy youngsters.
But with 25 chicks this time around, a team of dedicated volunteers has also been drafted in and trained up to help care for the chicks.
The flamingos were transported to the North East in mobile incubators last month while still inside their eggs and came from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT’s) headquarters in Gloucestershire, WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire and Chester Zoo.
They will eventually join WWT Washington’s and WWT Martin Mere’s resident birds next spring, as part of a strategy to increase flock size and enhance chances of future breeding success.
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 Chilean flamingos failed to produce eggs for the sixth season running this year, despite a noticeable increase in displaying, flirting, mating and nest-building thanks to the introduction of last year’s five hand-reared juveniles in May.
“By adding even more new chicks, we should hopefully finally stimulate the existing adults into laying eggs, while at the same time increasing the flock size and adding young birds that will hopefully breed themselves in a few years’ time.”
Because the eggs were laid so late in the season, it was too risky to allow the flamingos to parent-rear due to colder weather and lack of essential sunlight. So the expert skills and knowledge of Owen and his volunteers is being called upon instead, for the difficult but rewarding task of raising the chicks by hand.
“Hand-rearing flamingos is a delicate matter,” added Owen. “And this year’s challenge is even greater as we have 25 chicks to look after, so we have trained up a team of dedicated volunteers to help with their care.
“Flamingo parents feed their young with a type of rich saliva, full of all the goodness needed for the chicks to develop.
“Here, we mimic that by syringe-feeding them every two to three hours with a blended mixture of baby porridge, sardines in oil and egg yolks.
“They also need regular exercise, precise health checks and growth monitoring, to protect their delicate legs as they grow, in case they become too heavy for them.
“At this time of 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, so we’ll be supervising ‘sunbathing’ sessions for them when the weather is warm enough.
“Thankfully the hard work and perseverance is paying off so far and all 25 are thriving up at our duckery.”
Visitors can see the flamingo chicks throughout the day in their rearing unit and can watch them being fed and exercised at 1pm, weather permitting.