The birth of an American flamingo at Flamingo Gardens in Davie – the sanctuary’s first birth ever from its own flock – has been keeping Wildlife Curator Laura Wyatt busy.
Flamingos imprint on the first voice they hear, she said, so the 1-week-old flamingo chick, currently being called Baby Jane, imprinted on her when it emerged from its shell on Aug. 1.
That means Wyatt is the one feeding the chick about six times a day, and the chick goes home with her at night and on her days off. “My last feeding is generally about 10:30 p.m.,” she said, celebrating the chick’s success in sleeping through the night.
Wyatt is feeding the chick a blend of shrimp, fish and baby food, plus water, calcium and vitamins, in a smoothie that is similar to the milk-like substance that adult flamingos produce.
She’s also exercising the chick, which started walking a few days after birth and has already mastered the iconic one-legged flamingo stand. “Yesterday it finally held the one leg up,” Wyatt said. “It’s so cute.”
The American flamingo’s birth is a rare occurrence. “Ninety years in business and this is the first,” Wyatt said. “So this is a real honor to raise one from our own flock.”
Flamingo Gardens has 14 adult American flamingos, most of them hatched in 2002 from eggs obtained from the Hialeah Park racetrack, although a couple of birds have been in the flock since the 1960s, said Keith Clark, the executive director of Flamingo Gardens.
Wyatt raised Flamingo Gardens’ 11 chicks in 2002, “so I have very good charts and records on how exactly they’re supposed to be progressing,” she said. Baby Jane is following their progress exactly, “so that’s a good sign.”
This is only the second time in 15 years that the flamingos have laid eggs. “We don’t have enough flamingos,” Wyatt said. “Normally it takes a very big flock for them to produce – most zoos say at least 24 or more in order for them to breed.”
Humidity and temperature also affect breeding. The sanctuary’s flamingos have been laying eggs, Wyatt said, but they haven’t hatched.
“We always gather the eggs and put them in the incubator [to protect them from raccoons and other natural dangers] but it is very rare for such a small flock to have a fertilized egg,” Clark said. “It’s pretty exceptional.”
This time around, “we had 10 eggs, and this was the only one that was viable. I still have one in the incubator that’s questionable,” Wyatt said.
The flamingo chick — which will get its official name through a naming contest — has a lot of growing ahead and will take about three years to turn pink. “They’ll go from white to a gray to a darker gray, and then they’ll molt to light pink,” Wyatt said. “Then usually around three to four years, they’ll have the real brilliant salmon color.”
In order to find out the gender of the bird, Flamingo Gardens plans to do a DNA test. Otherwise, they would have to wait four to five years and determine its gender by its size: Females top out at 4½ to 5 feet, while males can get up to 6 feet tall.
“Right now we’re just doing exercise and water training to get it used to water,” Wyatt said. “Once it gets a little bigger, maybe next week, I’ll take it down to the exhibit with the flock … letting it get used to other flamingos” by seeing them and listening to them.
“We’ll let it meet the parents, obviously with complete supervision,” Wyatt said. “Since the parents are ones I raised, it should go fairly well as far as me being able to be there. They all know me, as well, and come to me still even though they’re 17 years old.”
Flamingo Gardens will announce when the public will be able to view their newest addition, Wyatt said, but it will be at least a year before the flamingo chick is permanently placed at Flamingo Pond.