Belfast Zoo welcomes baby flamingos after breeding breakthrough

Popcorn and Peanut are zoo’s first chicks since it became home to Chilean flamingos in 2010

This is one of Belfast Zoo’s first chicks since it became home to Chilean flamingos in 2010

This is one of Belfast Zoo’s first chicks since it became home to Chilean flamingos in 2010

 

Over the past few weeks, Belfast Zoo zookeeper Geraldine Murphy has added a new bullet point to her job description: stand-in Chilean flamingo mother.

Ms Murphy stepped in to hand-rear the young chicks - Belfast Zoo’s first since it became home to Chilean flamingos in 2010 - when they hatched last month.

The zoo’s adult birds were inexperienced parents, unable to produce crop milk needed by the young chicks in their early stages of life.

“When they first hatched they needed to be hand-fed six times a day with a substitute that has been developed to provide all of the essential vitamins and nutrients,” Ms Murphy said.

“The pair therefore came home with me every evening and back to the zoo with me each day.”

Zookeeper Geraldine Murphy hand-feeds the chicks
Zookeeper Geraldine Murphy hand-feeds the chicks

Ms Murphy says the chicks - named Popcorn and Peanut - will need fewer feedings during the day as they get older and will eventually be reintroduced into the flock.

While the Belfast Zoo has celebrated its two new chicks, their arrival was made possible by the sustained effort of a dedicated team of zookeepers.

For years, the team had no success encouraging breeding behaviour, with efforts such as installing mirrors in the enclosure to make the birds think they were part of a much larger flock falling flat.

In 2017, however, the keepers finally broke through.

They built artificial nests consisting of mounds of mud measuring 30 to 60 centimetres in height and installed dummy eggs produced by a local wood turner. The efforts were practically an overnight success, with the adult birds beginning to show natural courtship behaviours. Soon, eggs were showing up in their nests.

Zookeepers built artificial nests consisting of mounds of mud measuring 30 to 60 centimetres in height and installed dummy eggs produced by a local wood turner.
Zookeepers built artificial nests consisting of mounds of mud measuring 30 to 60 centimetres in height and installed dummy eggs produced by a local wood turner.

While the first batch of eggs was infertile, the team was hopeful, and their dreams finally came to fruition this autumn.

“We are absolutely delighted with the arrival of Popcorn and Peanut,” said Alyn Cairns, the zoo’s manager. “It is fantastic that the efforts of the Belfast Zoo team have had such excellent results!”

Over the past 40 years, the Chilean flamingo population has dropped significantly due to habitat loss, egg-harvesting and hunting. According to Mr Cairns, zoos play an active role in carefully monitoring the dwindling Chilean flamingo population - now estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 left in the wild - and providing a safety net in case of possible extinction.

Those hoping to see the new chicks can visit the Belfast Zoo any day (opens at 10am, last admission at 2.30pm) this winter excluding Christmas and Boxing Day.