Today, June 23, is a very important day for the San Diego Zoo’s flamingo flock: it’s the birthday of the two oldest flamingos, which are exactly one year apart! In the wild, flamingos typically live to be between 20 and 30 years old. Remove predation, habitat destruction, and food scarcity and give them world-class veterinary care, and you can add at least 20 years to their lives! The oldest male flamingo hatched out right here at the San Diego Zoo on June 23, 1958, making him 53 years old. Exactly one year later, June 23, 1959, our oldest female hatched. Since then, they have both enjoyed extraordinary lives.
To tell individual birds apart, we put bands on their legs that may have a combination of letters, numbers, and colors. When possible, we try to band the males on the right leg and the females on the left leg. This is not always the case, depending on circumstances, but applies to the majority of avian individuals in the Zoo’s collection. I would like you to be able to pick out the birthday boy and girl on your next visit, but this is challenging when you’re searching a flock currently numbering 96 birds! But if you’re patient, you will be rewarded.
First, let me introduce you to our long-lived male. He has a green-colored band on his right leg with the number 4 on it. There are very few birds in the flock that have green bands anymore, so he won’t be too hard to find. We’ll call him “4 Green Right.” Males are also usually taller than females, so keeping that in mind will aid your search. His mate has a white-colored band on her left leg with a number 46 on it. If you see her first, he will likely be close by, unless they have an egg, in which case one of them will be incubating. They have had one egg together already this breeding season, but it was pulled due to infertility to give them another opportunity to lay a fertile egg. His mate is almost 13 years old and they have been together since 2009.
This pair has had two chicks together: one in 2009 that was hand-raised and can be hand-fed by you! He lives in the Zoo’s Urban Jungle and is part of our Backstage Pass experience. Look for his white band on the right leg with the number 243. The chick our pair had in 2010 is also a male and is on exhibit with the rest of the flock. When I looked back into our records, I discovered that 4 Green Right has parented at least 9 chicks since 1996. As a result of this, he is also a grandfather to 16 members of our flock. Not only is he currently well represented in our main exhibit and in the Urban Jungle, his female offspring from 2006 was recently sent to the Emperor Valley Zoo in Trinidad. His genes are being represented internationally as well!
Our long-lived female is one of my absolute favorite birds I’ve ever worked with (even though I try not to have favorites). She has a beautiful and unique story that I don’t have time to go into today. Please check back for my next blog post, which will be just about her—she deserves it!
In the meantime, if you come to visit the birthday boy and girl before the next blog is posted, she is banded with a black band on her left leg with a number 30 on it (30 Black Left). She is also currently incubating her second egg of the season with her mate, who is banded white, right leg, number 26. Look for either of them on the northwest end of the island where their current nest is located. Or if you see me in the exhibit feeding, she is usually standing close by.
Athena Wilson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Flamingo Egg-stravaganza. http://blogs.sandiegozoo.org/2011/06/20/flamingo-egg-stravaganza/