Ask the Zookeeper – October

If you’re lucky, you’ll see a ‘flamingle’ at the zoo

Does your child have a question about an animal at the Santa Barbara Zoo? Post questions on our Facebook page ( If yours is published, you and your family get free tickets to the zoo. 

“Tell me about the flamingos that walk around the zoo.”  — Katie, age 9

Visitors are often surprised to see a group of Chilean flamingos walking through the zoo’s grounds, accompanied by keepers.

No, they haven’t escaped!

This is a “flamingle.”  We made up this word to describe the experience of zoo guests having an encounter with flamingos outside their enclosure.

This started a few years ago, when four flamingo eggs were knocked off their nests. The eggs were carefully moved to the zoo’s animal hospital and put in an incubator – a special cabinet that keeps the eggs warm until the chicks hatch.

A couple of the chicks were not well and needed to be raised by keepers. That means feeding them every few hours for several weeks. They lived in the animal hospital, but needed room to exercise and build strong muscles.

We started to walk the chicks through the zoo in the early mornings, before the zoo opened. The chicks had bonded with us, meaning they trusted us and thought of us bird keepers as members of their family. So the gray chicks followed us to the hilltop, where they explored the rocks, grass and other plants. It was adorable.

We wanted to share this special experience with our guests, so “flamingles” were created.

As soon as they were old enough, these birds were reintroduced into the flamingo flock. The other birds treated them the same as chicks who grew up in the exhibit. We’ve since hand-raised more chicks and they have their own flamingles.

There’s no set schedule for flamingles, so read the daily activities sign at zoo admissions to see if there’s one next time you visit.

But check out the flamingos anyway. A lot of eggs hatched this year, so we have many fluffy gray chicks!

Flamingo Fun Facts:

n They actually walk on their tip-toes. What look like knees are really their ankles! Their knees are hidden under their belly feathers.

n Their pink color comes from what they eat. If we didn’t give them a special diet, they would stay gray.

n It takes two to three years for a chick to turn pink.

— Rachel R., bird keeper