Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Zoo plays matchmaker with flamingo 'Love Island'

Belfast Zoo has channeled the success of reality series Love Island by playing matchmaker to its flock of 41 Chilean flamingos.

The animals have lived at the Cave Hill site since 2010 but they have never laid eggs despite the zoo's attempt to encourage breeding behaviour.

This included installing large mirrors in their enclosure in order to trick the birds into thinking there was a much larger flock to stimulate courtship behaviour such as marching, head turning, calling and preening.

Unfortunately this tactic was unsuccessful, so the zoo team tried planting 'dummy eggs' to stimulate the flamingos’ natural breeding behaviours.

Senior keeper, Allan Galway, explained: “We decided to build some nests for the flock and I approached a local wood turner to produce some ‘dummy’ eggs.

“Flamingo nests are basically mounds of mud that measure between 30 to 60 centimetres in height. This height protects the egg from flooding and ground heat.

(3) Flamingo nests are basically mounds of mud that measure between 30 to 60 centimetres in height..jpg
Flamingo nests are basically mounds of mud that measure between 30 to 60 centimetres in height.

"Almost immediately the flamingos started to pair up and within minutes there were courtship behaviours and displays taking place at the lake. 

"In the subsequent days, the pairs started to build the nests higher and within weeks the first egg was laid.  There are now a total of five eggs and we expect that the flock will continue to lay over the next few weeks. We were delighted to witness the success of the matchmaking exercise."

However, the team at Belfast Zoo have decided to artificially incubate the eggs as the birds were leaving the nests for slightly longer than would be preferred.

Allan continued: "We do not know, at this stage, if the eggs are fertile and our vet will be carrying out tests to determine whether there are chicks developing inside. We have fingers crossed that the latest ‘craic’ at Belfast Zoo will be when the eggs hatch and hopefully produce our first fluffy flamingo chicks.

(5) The flamingos have since laid five eggs and the zoo is eagerly awaiting tests to check if these are fertilised..jpg
The flamingos have since laid five eggs and the zoo is eagerly awaiting tests to check if these are fertilised.

"A decision will then be made based on monitoring of the adults’ behaviours to determine whether the chicks will return to the flock immediately or whether they will need to be hand-reared initially. 

"If it turns out that the eggs are not fertilised, we are still delighted that the birds are now demonstrating these natural behaviours and it is a great sign of things to come.”

Zoo Manager, Alyn Cairns, added: “Flamingos are iconic birds and with their long legs, long neck and beautiful pink plumage they are instantly recognisable and a firm favourite with zoo visitors. 

"While the Chilean flamingo is not an endangered species, populations have fallen from 500,000 to approximately 200,000 in the last 40 years, predominantly due to the impact of man through habitat loss, egg-harvesting and hunting. 

"It is fantastic that the efforts of the team and even a local wood turner have had such excellent and instant results. We are excited to see the future for our Chilean flamingo flock.”

(2) Senior keeper%2c Allan Galway%2c built nests for the birds and organised %27dummy%27 eggs to stimulate natural breeding behaviours..jpg
Senior keeper Allan Galway built nests for the birds and organised dummy eggs to stimulate natural breeding behaviours.

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