WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - Usually summer brings out a crop of plastic flamingos that dot suburban lawns with pink and invite snarky comments from neighbors. But at the National Zoo, keepers are all atwitter over a brand new real live flamingo chick who hatched on July 29. The gender of the fluffy white baby has not yet been determined.
The Zoo's flock of 63 birds usually produces about 15 fertile eggs in a normal breeding season. But this year, as a result of irregular mating patterns, the flamingos produced only six eggs and did not construct nests that were sufficient to foster the eggs.
So the Zoo's Bird House keepers are raising this precious new chick by hand. They feed the chick a formula designed to mimic the crop milk produced by flamingo parents. Recently, keepers began adding so-called "flamingo pellets to the chick's diet. These pellets contain the carotenoid pigments that will turn a flamingo's plumage a vivid pink as it matures. Keepers are working closely with the Zoo's Department of Nutrition to be certain that the baby is growing at an appropriate rate.
In the next few months, the chick will join the rest of the flock in the outdoor flamingo exhibit. But before it's introduced to the flock, the chick will stay in a holding pen, so it can observe the adult flamingos, until it's able to be fully independent.
Right now the chick's feathers are still fluffy and white, more like a duck than a flamingo, but once it is on exhibit, visitors will recognize the chick by its smaller size and gray color. Eventually, it will begin gaining some pink feathers and its bill will be bigger and more pronounced at around six months of age.
By its first birthday next summer, the chick will have a plumage of pale pink feathers. Flamingos' plumage gradually turnes to the birds' familiar 'flamingo' shade of darker pink around two to three years of age.