In a building on the edge of the Zoo, inside a quiet, warm room, five Grumbach incubators cradle the eggs of Caribbean flamingos.
Grumbachs are the Cadillacs of incubators and, along with a team of dedicated bird keepers, they’re safely incubating the flamingo eggs to ensure their survival.
During last year’s breeding season, our Caribbean flamingos incubated their eggs naturally in their ZooNorth pond habitat, but none survived. Keepers believe the eggs were eaten by predators. Not wanting to risk predation this year, keepers incubated 22 laid eggs.
It’s a process that needs a lot of attention. “It’s an awesome responsibility. I take it extremely seriously. It’s a lot of work. For 30 days, we’re protecting these flamingo eggs,” said Marcie Herry, Wilds of Africa assistant supervisor. An incubating expert, Herry has been safeguarding eggs for 18 years.
But to allow the adult flamingos to feel that they’re incubating their eggs, keepers swap their freshly laid eggs with replicas. “We use an old egg that wasn’t fertile and fill it with clay. We pull the real egg and replace it with the dummy,” Herry explained. “They don’t know the difference.”
Back in the incubation room, the eggs are weighed daily and temperature and humidity levels are adjusted if needed. The eggs are examined with a high-intensity light to see the developing embryo and its movement, a process known as candling. Progress is recorded multiple times daily.
“Once that little egg comes into our hands, we do everything we can to help it hatch,” Herry said.
And after a month of incubating, three chicks hatched successfully. The other eggs were infertile.
To safeguard the chicks while they’re small, three were placed in a protected area and fostered by a group of Chilean flamingos. Now big enough for the outside world, you can find the chicks in the flamingo pond, exploring their new home.