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Becoming Part of the Flock

November 17, 2014

Becoming Part of the Flock

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Susan Leiter Susan Leiter

In the flock of American flamingos that live outside the Aquatic Bird House at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, there are three birds that came to us as eggs in 2007. They were first raised in the nursery at the World of Birds and were then introduced to the flock when they were a few months old.

This year, our department raised a single chick in the nursery, and he is now spending his days with the flock — basically, he’s learning to be a flamingo. It’s hard to go from being tended to by your human caretakers, to learning the ropes in a flock of testy adult flamingos. Though he clung to us at first, he has proven to be tough and adventurous. Every day, we can see him picking up new social cues, including vocalizations and body language.

When I supervised his time with the flock, I also got to see the three that we raised in 2007, now fully integrated. It’s been a long time since they perceived me as their “mom.” Today, they are as likely as the rest to give me a good pinch with their beak if I get too close.

It’s a great privilege to work so closely with wild animals that come to trust you, and look at you as their protectors and caregivers. Not too many things can compete with the sight of a flamingo chick running joyfully toward you. But knowing that you helped them become full-fledged members of their flock is even better.

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