New baby flamingos in Utah helping sustain bird populations
By MIKE GORRELL
Aug. 18, 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Little more than a puff of short white feathers, a two-day-old Chilean flamingo got its first exposure to the outside world Monday at Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City.
After sunrise, keepers at the Liberty Park aviary placed the chick on a mud mound the flamingo parents had built with their bills since conception took place. The chick could do little more than lie there, between the spindly legs of its parents (who stood watch on a rotating basis), other than taking little red drops of nourishment now and then.
But it appeared to be thriving, to the delight of aviary species-survival specialist Kate Lyngle-Cowand, whose efforts to breed struggling bird species in captivity is close to producing a second Chilean flamingo. In a Tracy Aviary incubator where the first chick hatched, a second was starting to peck its way out of its shell, periodic chirps forewarning of an impending breakthrough.
"Oh, this is fun. It's great," beamed Lyngle-Cowand, who oversees the aviary's participation in a species survival program for several bird species that are either endangered in the wild or in need of a genetically diverse population in captivity, such as the Chilean flamingo.
"We'll do everything within limits to help these parents raise their offspring," she added. "We could do more, but it's important to let them do it."
Lyngle-Cowand didn't plan it this way, but flamingos have figured prominently in her career ever since she was an intern at the aviary and was tasked with holding them while a veterinarian checked their vital signs. When she moved on to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, she dealt with them there, too, developing a system to protect flamingo eggs from predators in the exposed 30-day incubation period before hatching.
Back in Salt Lake City, Lyngle-Cowand applied that approach to keep the eggs safe from the aviary's own hawks and owls — let alone any outside varmints — that might look at the eggs as a tasty meal.
Aviary keepers took fertile eggs and put them in the incubator, replacing them with fake eggs that apparently seemed real enough to the flamingo parents that they sat on the eggs or guarded them.
"When flamingos want to nest, they are so hardwired to do it that that's all they want to do," she said. "I could put a walnut under them and they'd sit on it. Of course, I wouldn't do that."
With the newly hatched flamingo and the one to come, aviary keepers will let the chicks bond with their parents during the day when other flamingos and aviary visitors can keep predators at bay. Over a number of days, they can learn to walk and to eat on their own, then rest comfortably in the safety of an aviary building at night, when predators are on the move.
"Every chick is important to us," Lyngle-Cowand said, noting that the aviary had other successes this breeding season.
In the Treasures of the Rainforest exhibit building, the aviary now boasts five new Edwards's pheasants, a species believed to be extinct in the wild, as well as a Guam kingfisher, which no longer exists outside captivity.
The aviary also hatched six common shama thrush, a songbird of southeast Asia whose populations are declining rapidly, largely because they're collected as pets. "The males have an elaborate singing capability and people love to hear them," Lyngle-Cowand said.
These little birds occupy a space in the simulated rain forest below a violaceous turaco, a native of West Africa threatened by the destruction of its forest and woodland habitats. Lyngle-Cowand was pleased to see the turaco was learning to perch well on branches and its "flight feathers" were turning from black to red, a change that makes it less attractive to predators.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com