Monday, January 5, 2009

Flamingo

The zoo has a flock of flamingoes to greet you after you make your way through the entrance. They are extraordinary birds and I haven't seen any up close and personal for many years. Don't they have the most interesting looking beaks? They are equipped with a feeding system unlike any bird on earth and their beaks have evolved to skim tiny algae from the water's surface.


I read that there are six species of flamingoes, all of which come from rather harsh, inhospitable environments. Some species live on frozen windswept saline lakes at high altitudes in the Andes mountains, while others nest on caustic alkaline mud flats that contain boiling mud pots erupting from volcanic fissures.

At the Honolulu Zoo they have two species, the American (or Caribbean) from the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and the Lesser Flamingo from East Africa, the Middle East and India. The American Flamingo is certainly the most colorful and well known as the type that greets you at the Honolulu Zoo.

Their beautiful color is acquired from their diet. The small crustaceans and algae that the flamingoes eat contain carotinoid and other natural pigments that are processed in the body and deposited in the growing feathers. (Carotene is one of the most common carotinoid pigments and is what makes Carrots and other vegetables orange in color.) Only specific red chemical compounds will color Flamingoes. This means that you can't turn a Flamingo blue by feeding it blue colored food.

Flamingoes are very social birds and will not nest unless there are a number of other flamingoes present. Usually there is a "critical mass" of birds that is needed to initiate breeding and smaller flocks tend not to breed as well as larger ones. During the breeding season, group behavior is very important to get the entire flock "in the mood" for breeding and synchronize the production of eggs.

Although Flamingoes are extremely social, they spend quite a bit of time fighting with each other. These are usually only noisy squabbles and pecking skirmishes and never cause any damage or harm. When nesting, you can see that each nest is placed exactly one neck length away from its neighbor, just within arguing distance! The most disastrous consequence of all this fighting is broken or "scrambled eggs!"

Flamingoes build a very interesting nest. Since they nest on barren mud flats, there is nothing else to build a nest from except the mud itself. The mud is piled up one mouthful at a time till it forms a tall 1 to 3 foot cone with a shallow indentation in the top for the single egg. The tall nest is a hedge against rising waters that may wash away the eggs and the height keeps the egg and chick off the hot searing alkaline floor of the mud flat. There can be a 20 to 30 degree temperature difference from the hot ground and the top of the nest!

The Honolulu Zoo flock numbers 19 birds. Most of these birds are quite old and could be considered geriatric. All but 5 of the birds were adults in 1968 when they arrived at the Zoo. That makes most of the flock over 30 years old. That is not exceptional for a flamingo, but since these were adult birds when they arrived, they could have been 10 to 20 years old or older. Four of the five other birds were born at Sea World of California in 1989.

The youngest bird in the flock is Sherman. He is the only Flamingo to be born here at the Honolulu Zoo. Sherman's egg was laid in 1993 and his parents tried to take good care of it. Unfortunately, one of the Flamingoes infamous squabbles ended with Sherman's egg being knocked from its nest and rolled into the pool. When the keepers found the egg the next morning it was cold and wet and it was thought that there would be Little chance it would hatch. The determined keepers moved the egg to an incubator and hoped for the best. Miraculously, the egg hatched and the chick was named Sherman.


Raising Sherman was a struggle. Young Flamingoes have a very specific diet and the food must be dribbled into their throats like the adult Flamingoes do. Sherman also had several medical problems, but with round the clock keeper care, and medical help from the zoo's veterinarians, he pulled through. As he got a bit older, he was taken out to the Flamingo pond every day to mingle with the other birds. Sherman though, prefers to think he is a human. To this day he follows the keepers around and will often lay his head on their shoulder. If you notice a Flamingo marching up and down calling to the visitors with a band on his leg with the number #3 on it, that is Sherman.

All this information was found at the zoo's website.

14 comments:

  1. They certainly are very striking birds Denise and those particular ones have a very vivid colour. I really enjoyed reading all about them, lots of facts I had no idea about. Would love to see Sherman with his head on his keeper's shoulder, what a character! Thanks for sharing.

    A x

    ReplyDelete
  2. The flamingo is such a gorgeous bird, you captured several wonderful photographs. Thanks for the information too.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The first photo is stunning Denise...the last one is a little freaky!!! Ha Ha!
    This is a very nice informative post. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Another great post, Denise. I love the photos, and a chance to learn something. Hope you're doing well.

    ReplyDelete
  5. These are some terrific flamingo shots! Love that one where they look aggressive. I've never seen that. When I see flamingos, I always think of "Fantasia 2000" and the sequence with the flamigo with the yoyo...so funny!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ms. Denise,

    I must confess that I found the above to be a most informative post on the subject of flamingoes. I have duly record'd this as a reference of note in the margins of my Nature Diary. I extend to you my sincerest gratitudes for sharing such elucidations & look forward to further enlightening missives from your good self.

    I remain, &c.
    Colonel Brandon.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Great photos Denise. Those colours are so unnatural for birds.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Denise those are the cutest birds ever. I have never seen a flamingo close up before either.

    I have mentioned your blog on a post I am doing on my blog for Friday (9th)

    Gill

    ReplyDelete
  9. I thought I knew these guys, but YOU just introduced me to them!
    Excellent & enjoyable post. Aloha-

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello My Friends,

    Anne, I wish I had read this before I went to the zoo. I would have enjoyed meeting Sherman up close and personal.

    Leedra, they certainly are gorgeous birds and you are very welcome.

    Eve, I think the reason I included that last photo is that I was fascinated how they could turn their neck so that they could sleep that way.

    Jan, the cold is hanging in but blogging helps :) I was at the post office starting the procedure for a new passport today and the lady had a dreadful cold. Hers had lasted as long as mine has. It's going around.

    Mary, they were more comical than aggressive as far as I could see thank goodness. A slight little argy-bargy on this occasion.

    Colenal Brandon, you honor me by putting this post in the margins of your Nature Diary. I thank you.

    Roy, they are indeed but beautiful for the eye to see.

    Gill, thank you for mentioning me in your Friday post. I also feel honored that you would do so.

    Cloudia, how kind for you to say so. Aloha.

    Thank you all for visiting me. You take my mind away, which is what I need right now.

    ReplyDelete
  11. This is just the best post! I sure didn't know much about flamingos...and can't you just picture them getting their long legs folded to get on the nest?

    ReplyDelete
  12. 'Although Flamingoes are extremely social, they spend quite a bit of time fighting with each other' - what a good description of human families too!

    Really enjoy your flamingo photos and interesting commentary.

    Thanks too for becoming a follower of PICTURES JUST PICTURES . I'm glad you like it - and look forward to hearing your opinions and comments.

    Best wishes

    Lucy Corrander

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have never seen a real flamingo, only the 40 of the off pink plastic ones that were propped in my neighbour's yard on his birthday... haha
    Great photo and post!
    Hope your are feeling better these days!
    ~Michele~

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow! I'm really impressed with the color and clarity of these shots. These are wonderful!

    ReplyDelete