It was an exciting day when the first baby flamingo from the Houston Zoo flock hatched this year – the first baby to hatch in six years! Since that first baby, more eggs have been laid, and more adorable chicks have hatched. Right now, the chicks are located behind the scenes in the care of our very capable zoo keepers so they can be monitored closely and get a full health checkup before heading out to join the flock.
If you watch the flamingo webcam or have visited the Zoo lately, you may have noticed that there are several flamingos sitting on eggs. These eggs, while realistic looking, are not actually real flamingo eggs. We affectionately refer to them as “dummy” eggs. The real eggs are behind the scenes, carefully kept at a steady temperature in incubators and monitored by our expert team of bird keepers.
We do this for a couple reasons. First, we want to be sure the hatching rate is as high as possible – we want the eggs to turn into chicks. Flamingos sit on their eggs to keep them warm and safe, but there is always a chance something could happen to them.
For example, The keepers sometimes have to ask the flamingos to get off their nests (called mounds) so that we can till the soil. This helps the flamingos have enough loose dirt to build up their mounds. When the flamingos hop off their nests during this process, the eggs get colder, which is not good for the developing chick inside the egg. Also, a flamingo hopping off a nest has the potential to break it, and we definitely don’t want that to happen.
Another thing that can happen is that flamingos, being highly social creatures, can tend to squabble over an egg or a chick if there are not enough to go around. As you can imagine, this has the potential to be bad for the egg and/or chick, so we prevent that from happening by keeping eggs and chicks behind the scenes.
“Dummy” eggs, as they are called, serve an important purpose. When a flamingo lays an egg and we replace it with a dummy egg, both parents will continue to sit on it until they believe it is time for it to hatch. This prevents the female flamingo from laying another egg. Once the incubation period has ended, we always remove the dummy egg.
It is very important for flamingos (and other birds) not to lay too many eggs too soon, because it could cause them to lose large amounts of calcium. This could cause their bones to weaken and possibly break. We use dummy eggs so eggs are not laid too frequently by the same bird. We want to keep mom healthy, and we want to make sure the egg shell has enough calcium to properly form.
Why do we breed flamingos? Having a large group is very important to flamingos, as the name of the game for them is safety in numbers. We also do not take birds from the wild. It is important that we grow a healthy population within the Zoo so guests can enjoy and learn about these incredible birds.
Thanks to Joshua Vandenberg, an awesome bird keeper at the Houston Zoo and lover of all things flamingo, for the fantastic information!