Pink and red flamingo chicks at Hellabrunn Zoo
A flamingo chick pecking its way out of an egg has been an almost daily occurrence in the past couple of weeks at Hellabrunn Zoo. Small, grey and fluffy, these offspring discover the world at the side of their leggy, graceful parents, who nurture, warm and feed their young.
The greater flamingo (pink) and the American flamingo (red) are among the largest flamingo species. The chicks born with grey plumage and currently at a height of about 20 cm appear even more adorable in the presence of the more than 100 colourful adult flamingos at the zoo. Warmed and well protected, the chicks hatched between 9 and 18 May sit happily with their parents or nest under their wings. Zoo director Rasem Baban is delighted with the new births: "A total of seven chicks have been hatched. The flamingos incubate about 20 eggs in nest mounds made from mud. Once the sun comes out and the temperatures rise, the colourful offspring become independent and strike out on their own."
A chick hatches after 28 to 32 days and is cared for by both parents. Both the mother and the father produce a type of milk called crop milk in the upper digestive tract, which is similar to the mother's milk of mammals. After just one week, the little ones will begin to run confidently on their relatively short - compared to adult flamingos - but strong legs. When the chicks are about four to five weeks old, they will leave their nest to flock together with other chicks to form a crèche. Each chick will then wait in the crèche for the parents to find and feed them.
After six months, the juvenile flamingo will become fully grown. However, it will only begin to gain a pink or red colour in its plumage upon reaching sexual maturity at the age of two to three years. The flamingos’ colour comes from the carotenoids found in certain algae and small crabs in its diet, which act as a dye on their feathers. American flamingos store more of this dye than greater flamingos. As a result their red coloration is more intense. If a flamingo ate less algae or crustaceans, the bright colour of its plumage would fade. Flamingos are among the oldest groups of birds. They have existed on earth in their present form for about 30 million years. American flamingos naturally inhabit the Greater Antilles; greater flamingos reside in and around shallow lakes and lagoons in Africa and Asia, but also in various regions in Europe, for example, in the Camargue in France.