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Monday, September 5, 2011

Flamingos breed at British zoo for the first time ever... After staff put up mirrors to help get them in the mood

By David Scholefield

Small miracle: Marwell Wildlife Park's first ever flamingo chick

A zoo is celebrating the birth of its first ever flamingo chick - conceived after keepers got the birds in the mood to breed by putting up mirrors for them.

Staff at Marwell Wildlife Park have been willing the exotic birds to produce offspring since 1972.

Now, almost four decades later, they've finally got their wish - after employing the ingenious tactics to get the creatures in the mood.

Greater flamingos are more likely to breed in larger colonies where they feel secure.

So keepers tricked them by installing mirrors and piping in the sound of flamingo calls from speakers. They also put up fake nests with dummy eggs.

To their delight, their first chick was born and, with eight eggs left to hatch, it is hoped there will be more arrivals before the end of the year.

Keepers say their latest addition, which is now two weeks old and just 1ft tall, is doing well and proving very popular with visitors.

Leg up: The flamingo chick conceived after keepers got the birds in the mood to breed by putting up mirrors

Gordon Campbell, curator of birds and lower vertebrates, said: "We've had flamingos for many years and always hoped they would breed.

'They got close on occasions but, until now, none have produced a chick.

'A colleague then came up some new ideas after attending a meeting of the British Zoos and Aquariums.

'Introducing mirrors and sounds seemed bizarre but it appealed to the birds' instinct.

'Many exist in colonies of thousands - this comforts them and encourages them to breed.

'After that we noticed some of the birds were building nests - it was a little step but it was encouraging.

'We then introduced some dummy eggs into nests we'd made up and that really got the birds excited.

'Five days after that we had our first egg.

'The parents took it in turns to incubate it for the 29 to 30 days and we were delighted when it hatched.

'Some of the keepers spotted the chick and there was a great deal of excitement.

Broody: A flamingo sits upon its nest. Behind it, the reflection of another bird in a mirror set up by zoo staff

'When you've had the birds for such a long time with no success with breeding this kind of thing is really important.

'For the first day the chick was closely guarded by its mother but it's now started to walk around the enclosure and is doing really well.

'At the moment, we don't know whether our new arrival is a male or a female.

'We will either wait until it's fully grown, when we will be able to judge the sex by its size, or we will do a DNA test during a health check next month.'

He added: 'The chick is proving very popular with visitors, when they catch a glimpse of it there's always a lot of excitement.'

Flamingos incubate their eggs for 30 days and the parents take it in turns to look after the youngster.

Young flamingos are born grey and white and do not turn pink for two years.

For the first three to four weeks, the chick is fed entirely by the parents who secrete a creamy pink liquid called 'crop milk'.



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