Before the snow flies, Como Zoo’s flamingos pack it up

Often used to symbolize sizzling summer weather and beach-vibe vacations, flamingos might not seem well suited to crisp fall weather.

But in fact, Como Zoo’s Chilean flamingos are surprisingly hearty, says keeper Jennifer Gleason. “They can definitely handle temperatures that might dip below freezing, but once that’s happening consistently, we have to move them indoors.”

Shifting Como’s flamboyance of flamingos into their winter home in the backstage Animal Support Building is an all-hands-on-deck operation for Como’s zookeeping staff that takes place every fall. Though the colorful birds are comfortable in the 75 degree building, with circulating pools and access to the outdoors, the change in routine can definitely ruffle some feathers.

“It’s stressful for the birds, but I think it’s even more stressful for me,” Gleason says.

Shown below: Zookeepers, Jennifer Gleason, Amanda Norby-White, Aaron Nelson and, Senior Zookeeper, Allison Jungheim

On the appointed day, usually in mid- to late October, keepers enter the bird yard and begin to corral the flamingos into a corner. “Then we send one or two people in to grab them, and then hand them off to other keepers, sort of like footballs,” Gleason says. While this approach might sound familiar for urban chicken enthusiasts, the flamingos’ long necks and spindly legs can make things a little more complicated.

“Instead we hold them backwards, sort of tucked up into our armpits, with their heads behind us and if one of them is really bite-y, another keeper can help hold the bill closed,” Gleason explains. “We’ll also put a finger between their legs so they can’t accidentally cross their legs and get tangled up or hurt.”

Over the years, Como Zoo has had just two baby flamingos born, a breeding trend that may be affected by the Minnesota weather. “The spring is when they get geared up and interested in breeding activity and display behaviors, but in our climate, it’s usually too cold yet to put them outside,” Gleason says, noting that in the wild, Chilean flamingos will gather by the thousands during mating season. “They also tend to like a wet spring, because the rainy season tells them it’s time to breed.”

Both of the flamingo chicks happened to be hatched during a year when the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s corpse flower was in bloom. “It’s just a coincidence, but I hope we get another corpse flower going just in case,” she says.

The arrival of three new females this month will bring Como Zoo’s total number of flamingos to sixteen, guaranteeing some serious squawking behind the scenes in Como’s Animal Support Building this winter. “Their space is definitely smaller and noisier than outdoors, but it gives us a better opportunity to offer enrichment for the flamingos,” says zookeeper Amanda Norby-White.

Once the flamingos pack it up, visitors can expect to see them again in spring 2022, as soon as the temperatures rise into the 40s and 50s. “After a long winter, it’s always something that visitors can look forward to,” says Gleason.

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