FOR the last five years, the flamingos at a North East wetland site have failed to breed.
So yesterday they were introduced to five youngsters to show them what they are missing out on.
And it now means that WWT Washington Wetland Centre’s aviculture manager Owen Joiner can look forward to a good night’s sleep again.
That is because Owen has spent four months feeding the flamingo chicks every three hours, day and night, to mimic how an adult bird feeds its young.
Five flamingo eggs were transported to the North East from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT’s) headquarters in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, in September.
Because they had been laid so late in the season, it was too risky to allow the flamingos to rear the hatchlings due to the colder weather and lack of essential sunlight.
So the skills and knowledge of Owen were called upon instead for the difficult task of raising the chicks by hand.
“Hand rearing flamingos is a delicate matter”, he said.
“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. I mimicked that by syringe-feeding them every two to three hours with a blended mixture of baby porridge, sardines in oil and egg yolks.”
At times, to snatch a little more sleep, instead of walking to the youngsters’ quarters throughout the night to feed them, Owen took them home and put them up in his bath.
“They also needed regular exercise, precise health checks and growth monitoring, to protect their delicate legs as they grew,” said Owen.
“During the winter, lack of sunlight was an issue too, because the chicks need Vitamin D to grow and develop properly. But they can’t be exposed to the cold for too long, so I supervised sunbathing sessions for them when the weather was warm enough.
Now standing at nearly 4ft tall and weighing an average of three-and-a-half kilos, Frankie, Nico, Fran, Phil and Flo were released yesterday into the Washington flock of adult Chilean flamingos.
Owen said: “In the wild, flamingos nest in large groups, with potentially thousands of birds breeding together. Our own flock of 38 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.
Visitors can see the young flamingos in their new enclosure from today and there will be flamingo talks at 11.15am and 2.45pm, every Saturday and Sunday, from now until September 29.