Although the flock of pink flamingos that resides on the banks of the lake in the Jerusalem Zoo may seem quite large, its numbers are a cause for concern. Keepers are perplexed because the flamingos aren’t breeding, and never have done so. Now a new island in the sun may provide the solution.

Flamingos are found all across Africa, America and southern Europe and can live for well over 50 years. There are several different species, and the zoo has three, the greater flamingo, the lesser flamingo, and the Caribbean flamingo. They get their beautiful pink color from their food. The birds feed on animal and plant plankton that they forage using their specially adapted beaks. Their natural food contains carotenoids, organic pigments that give them their distinctive color.

At the zoo the birds are given beetroot to eat, along with minced meat and fish to provide the natural coloring they need. Aside from their bright color flamingos are notable also in that they stand on one leg. Exactly why the birds do this is unclear, although one theory is that they are resting.

The first flamingos arrived at the zoo 15 years ago. At the time it was hoped that the community would gradually increase in size as chicks were hatched. Flamingos can be reluctant to breed in captivity, but although other menageries around the world were successful in breeding their flocks, the Jerusalem Zoo had not even an egg. Further investigation revealed the catastrophic, although easily resolved, oversight that all of the zoo’s flamingos were males. Six females were added to the brood and keepers sat back to wait the expected courtships.

Flamingos form monogamous relationships, and with the introduction of the females the birds did form couples and build nests, yet eggs were scarce and none hatched.

Two years ago keepers tried to encourage more productive marital activities by building some nests for the birds. Flamingos form large nests made from mud, stone and sticks that the male and female birds build together. Sure enough, the resident flamingos followed the example with a noticeable increase in mating activities and nest building; however, there were still no eggs that hatched.

Now the zoo is taking things a step further. Flamingos are nervous animals that become alarmed at the slightest intrusion or threat. Keepers suspect that aside from the panic caused by daily visitors to the zoo, during the night, when the flamingos should be nesting, local nocturnal animals may be scaring and disturbing them. To try to provide some measure of security, a new pool and island have been added as a location for the birds to nest.

The hope is that the flamingos will feel that little bit more secure in their new home and so be encouraged to breed. The pool forms a moat around a large mound at the center where the birds can build their nests in safety. The flamingo mating season is March and April, so keepers should know within a couple of months if the island is successful.
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