An extraordinary thing happened today as I was enjoying an order of beignet fries. (They are wonderful! The fried, powdery goodness of a beignet in French fry form! They are sold at our Flamingo Café, a few short steps from my office- they are an evil temptation I try to avoid.) The extraordinary thing was not that I didn’t get powdered sugar all over my shirt, because I did. The extraordinary thing was a flamingo chick hatching before my very eyes as I sat at the café enjoying decadent fried dough.
This is a wonderful time for the front flock of our flamingos. This small exhibit is the first thing you encounter as you enter the Audubon Zoo. I love to listen to the visitors as they wait for the zoo gates to open because they can actually see the flamingos from the gate and they get very excited. They point, they exclaim, “Look, look Flamingos!” they jump up and down because they can see real live animals a few feet away. Their expecations of an animal filled day are already partially met.
This flock of approximately 30 flamingos has not had successful egg laying and hatching since before Katrina. This year we have had 12 eggs laid, with 2 successful hatches and more to come any minute or day now. It is amazing to see the mud nests that the birds build and then watch the lone egg of each nest and the thin legged mother birds that teeter over them, sometime precariously. It’s a noisy, colorful community of animals and the youngsters are a wonderful gray fuzzy addition.
Here are some interesting facts about the hatching:
1. Hatching takes between 24 and 36 hours.
2. The chick calls frequently as it breaks out of the shell.
3. The chick breaks through the shell using a growth on its bill called an egg tooth. The egg tooth is not a true tooth and falls off soon after hatching.
4. Adults appear anxious while their chick is hatching. Parent birds stand, look at the egg, and vocalize.
5. The shell becomes thin and brittle after a few hours.
6. Adults sit on the egg to break the brittle shell.
7. The adult stands, looks down, and gently preens and nibbles at the emerging chick.
If you come to the zoo in the next few days or weeks you can observe a truly extraordinary thing too. It might not be a flamingo egg hatching, but there are extraordinary things happening here every day-you just have to keep your eyes open. Oh yeah, and you might want to eat that New Orleans culinary tradition too-in french fry form!