Scientists say that flamingo chicks that adoptive parents raise from another species of flamingo grow normally.
Six Chilean flamingo chicks were bred by Andean flamingos – a species of similar size and behavior – at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Center in the summer of 2018.
University of Exeter scientists studied the behavior of chicks after they returned to join the Chilean flamingo herd early in 2019.
The results showed that adoption had no negative effects, as the reinforced flamingo still formed stable social bonds – making “friends” and behaving like a parent-bred bird.
“Flamingos have not nested in the Andes area of Slimbridge in about 20 years,” said Dr. Paul Rose of the University of Exeter.
But in the hot summer of 2018 – perhaps due to soaring temperatures – they make nests and lay eggs.
“Unfortunately, the eggs have turned out to be sterile, perhaps because of the birds’ age – and some are close to their 60s.
“To give them enrichment (to allow them to behave naturally), rangers laid six eggs from a Chilean flamingo flock raised by Andean flamingos.
“This gave us a rare opportunity to study the effects of adoption – although it should be noted that these species are remarkably similar, and that would not have been possible otherwise.”
Peter Kidd, who was then a student of the MA Animal Behavior course at Exeter, observed the behavior of the chicks and recorded it from April to July 2019 (after they returned to their herd).
These observations were used to study integration and social networks.
“The six chicks that were bred and seven of the chicks that were raised by the parents quickly converged again,” said Kidd.
“We found very slight behavioral differences – small enough to be explained by individual variation – and all chicks became an integral part of the group’s wider social network.
“They all preferred ‘friends’ to spend time with them, which is normal flamingo behavior.”
Species including Andean flamingos are rare in captivity (only flocks worldwide) and are classified as “endangered” in the wild.
It can be difficult for flamingos to breed regularly in captivity, so findings about successful adoption may help zoo conservation programs.
“It appears that nursery rearing is a safe way to maintain the reproduction of this species if done correctly,” said Dr. Rose.
“It is important to note that this adoption event went very smoothly due to the expert knowledge of flamingos within WWT’s animal welfare teams.”
The paper published in The Zoo and Botanical Gardens Magazine, Titled: “The Effects of Breeding Environment on the Behavior and Welfare of Captive Chilean Flamingos: A Case Study of Adopted and Parental Breeding Birds.”