Chilean Flamingo

The Chilean flamingo breeds in a large colony and needs that crowded situation to stimulate breeding activity. The male and female construct a chimney-shaped mud nest, 5-18 inches in height. One chalky white egg is laid on top of the nest. Both parents incubate the egg for about one month. Once hatched, the chick will remain on the nest mound for 5 to 12 days during which they are sustained by a substance called "crop milk". As the name suggests, the substance is produced in the adult flamingo's crop, which is a part of a bird's upper digestive tract. Crop milk is produced by both male and female flamingos, and the feeding of a chick is not restricted to just the parents. Other adult flamingos can act as foster-feeders. An interesting trait of the flamingo's crop milk is its bright red coloration. This coloration comes from the carotenoid pigment in the flamingo's diet, the same pigment that gives a flamingo's feathers their bright pink color. Because these pigments are being used in the production of crop milk, adult flamingos producing the milk begin to lose coloration in their feathers, becoming pale pink or even white! The adult's color will gradually return once the chick is old enough to feed itself. Parents recognize their chick by its chirp, and it is believed that the begging calls of hungry chicks stimulate the production of crop milk in adults.

At Caldwell Zoo, flamingo eggs are removed from the nest when laid and moved into an incubator for safety of the egg. The parents are given a fake egg which they very carefully tend. Zookeepers keep track of each egg and the pair it belongs to so that when the egg is ready to hatch, it can be given back to its real parents to rear.

Chilean Flamingo

Phoenicopterus chilensis

Distribution: Coastal mud flats, estuaries, lagoons and salt lakes of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile

Diet in the Wild: Mollusks, invertebrates such as crustaceans and shrimp, algae, diatoms

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Flamingo fare, trout chow, grain, krill, Rovimix, salt and vitamins

IUCN Red List Status: Near threatened, population decreasing

Threats: Intensive egg harvesting, hunting, habitat alteration from mining and irrigation projects

Interesting Facts:

As with other species of flamingo, the bright coloration of the Chilean flamingo’s feathers comes from pigments called carotenoids found in the flamingo’s diet.

Flamingos will usually only lay one egg per breeding cycle, which is one of the reasons why egg harvesting can have such a drastic effect on the Chilean flamingo population.

The production of crop milk is a trait that flamingos share with pigeons.

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