Newest arrivals welcomed to WWT Washington Wetland Centre

24 Chilean flamingo chicks moved in with their new family after being hand reared by humans

Hand-reared flamingos are released in >> to the main enclosure at Washington Wetlands Centre, with help from Owen Joiner and volunteers
Hand-reared flamingos are released in >> to the main enclosure at Washington Wetlands Centre, with help from Owen Joiner and volunteers

They aren’t your average Easter chicks, but the newest arrivals at WWT Washington Wetland Centre are making themselves right at home.

The 24 Chilean flamingo chicks moved in with their new family after being hand reared by humans.

Since hatching in October, the flamingos have been given round the clock care by “surrogate dad”, aviculture manager Owen Joiner, and a team of volunteers.

Parental duties have included syringe feeding every three hours, and taking them on twice-daily walks around the centre.

The chicks are now nearly four feet tall and were introduced to WWT Washington Wetland Centre’s adult flock yesterday, where they were welcomed by older flamingos Frankie, Nico, Phil, Flo and Fran, who were hand-reared at the centre in 2012 and have lived with the main flock for the past year.

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.

“Despite displaying, flirting, mating and nest building, our flock of 38 birds failed to breed last year so by introducing this large number of youngsters, we should give the existing flock a false sense of achievement which will hopefully give them the confidence to breed successfully while at the same time increasing the flock size. We hope, too, that these youngsters will themselves breed in a few years’ time.”

The flamingo chicks were transported to the North East as eggs from the WWT headquarters in Gloucestershire, WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire and Chester Zoo.

Because they had been laid so late in the season, it was too risky to allow them to parent-rear the babies due to colder weather and lack of sunlight.

So the expert skills and knowledge of Owen were called upon.

“Hand-rearing flamingos is a delicate matter,” said Owen. “The huge number of chicks we reared this year also meant that we needed a large team of staff and volunteers to assist both with the flamingos and the other everyday duties required on site to care for all of our birds and our pair of Asian short-clawed otters.

“Flamingo parents feed their young with a type of rich saliva, full of all the goodness needed for the chicks to develop.

“Here, we mimicked that by syringe feeding them with a blended mixture of baby porridge, sardines in oil and egg yolks.

“When you consider that to syringe feed 24 chicks takes two hours for each three hourly feed, you can see why we needed to recruit a team of helpers.”

The WWT project is responsible for 53% of Chilean flamingo breeding success in the UK for 2013.

Graham Clarkson, WWT’s captive animal manager, added: “Chilean flamingos are a near threatened species and conservation breeding programmes such as this help develop vital staff skills for re-introduction projects for endangered birds.

“The skills and techniques developed by breeding captive flamingos can also pay dividends to wild populations. For example, building artificial nest mounds for wild flamingos has been used with great success at sites in Europe and Africa where tens of thousands of wild flamingos have hatched directly as a result of this technique pioneered in captivity.”

You can see the chicks at 11.15am and 2.45pm every day until September.

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