From Parrots to Pelicans, Visiting The Wild Things At The Flamingo Habitat
One of the top free attractions in Las Vegas is a little gem tucked away at the Flamingo Hotel. With its towering, shady palm trees, running waterfalls and plenty of fine, feathered creatures, Flamingo Wildlife Habitat is not only a relaxing respite, but a prime photo opportunity.
Located off the courtyard near the pool and outdoor wedding chapel, the three-acre, 18-year-old habitat is almost like a mini-zoo, only featuring an array of more than 60 exotic birds and hundreds fish. Robin Matos, wildlife supervisor, says there are about 12 different species of ducks, two swan and parrot types interspersed with flamingos, pelicans, ibis and many fish. A highlight, naturally, is its plethora of flamingos that live on their own little island, pink beacons of the hotel’s legacy. Several hummingbird species call the habitat home, at least seasonally, and the wildlife staff faithfully hangs feeders every morning and checks on the rest of the animals throughout the day while answering questions from curious guests.
“It’s a nice break for people,” she says. “They come out to have their coffee and read a little and go back to the excitement.”
There are a ton of Chilean Flamingos!
Alpha and Omega are the two new flamingo girls from the Southern Nevada Zoological Park that closed its doors, but when you don’t have a companion in a breeding flock, you’re an outcast. There is a pecking order and there is a dominant pair and it works its way down. I have two males low on the totem pole and I have these two new girls, so I’m hoping they get together and can join the rest of the group. This is totally normal behavior though. By spring, when hormones start raging, they are going to pair up.
What other new residents?
We brought in the Radjah Shelduck, and we are trying to get some species that are a little bigger and showier that can stand up to the wild mallards.
Where do a lot of these animals come from?
Only the California Brown Pelicans are true rescues. They were found in a harbor, separately, in a fishing line, and Bugsy actually had his pouch cut by fisherman and both wings and feet were damaged. Virginia is very agile because she only has one bad wing so she can hop from the water to the dock.
We also have some turtles. Many years ago when we opened the habitat, there was a California turtle rescue so we did adopt probably five or six of those back in the ‘90s. Everything else we purchased. We get them all over, a lot came from zoos. For fish we usually get from a breeder, maybe California, Hawaii and Japan. The sturgeon are imported as food fish for Chinese restaurants, so we got a permit and when the truck came through to deliver them locally, we then rescued six. We have six White Sturgeon in our pond that were destined for dinner. They’re very famous for caviar. The Albino Channel Catfish we bought from a breeder in Florida who raises them for the aquarium industry and now they are about 30 pounds. Most of the turtles have been donations from guests, and some from locals, and now ours are breeding. We have five babies downstairs now.
What is your typical day?
It’s feeding and cleaning, and we do inventory twice a day. We want to see every animal first thing in the morning and at the end of the day to see everyone is healthy and if they have an appetite. That’s why we hand feed our waterfowl—so we can do observations. During the breeding season sometimes you’re missing hens, so we have to go looking and find them, but they’re sitting on eggs.
First thing in the morning I have a bucket of waterfowl food and I start walking and feeding and checking making sure everybody’s here. They recognize anybody who’s wearing a pink shirt that has a silver bucket. If I wear street clothes and don’t talk, they don’t recognize me.
How much can you replicate an environment here similar to what their real one would be?
These ponds actually grow food in them. We don’t use chemicals in them to clean it, it is just heavily filtered, but still grows algae and insect larve. We also stock it with minnows and crayfish. They live here for five or six years, reproduce, and our animals eat them. It’s good for them because it’s more of a natural lifestyle.
How did you select the type of species to bring here?
We chose species that can take our cold temperatures. The black and white ibis birds can take it, but to keep them comfortable we put a heater on the island. Chilean Flamingos in the wild can take temperatures down to 20 below but if you give them a heater they are going to snuggle up. And because the pelicans are disabled and have issues, they have a heater too.
-Matos says many of the animals know their names.
-The Australian Black Swan and Black-Necked Swan are vegetarian and are fed lettuce as a treat. During the summer they eat a lot of algae and keep the waterfalls clean, so when the gardeners are in the pond cleaning, the swans will follow them around begging for the algae.
-Some of the grass carp fish in the ponds weigh a whopping 80 pounds.
-The staff offers scheduled feedings at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The wildlife specialist wears a microphone and will stand over at the pelican island and feed them while talking, and then answer audience questions.
-The female Koi fish are bigger than the males because they’re always carrying eggs.
-Bugsy and Virginia, the two rescue pelicans, got their names from an employee contest. They were named after the hotel’s founder, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his famous girlfriend, Virginia Hill, a showgirl who’s long legs inspired the hotel’s moniker.
-Hanna, the Black-Necked Swan, is 20 years old.
-The Habitat is technically open 24 hours, but best visible in the daylight.
-You may see the Total Snapshot parrots, which feature names such as Orlando, Lola and Jamaica, and their handlers out in the habitat during the day. They take professional pictures of you with their birds, but simply holding them is complimentary!