The guests were tickled pink but not as much as the inhabitants, some more than others.
It was feeding time on a September morning at Flamingo’s Wildlife Habitat, home to 20 species of birds, five species of fish, turtles and crayfish. Folks gathered to watch the 8:30 a.m. spectacle — the first of two each day, with the second at 2 p.m.
Bugsy and Virginia, two California brown pelicans that arrived at the habitat in 2012, made their grand entrance.
They swam from around the bend in their enclosure’s pond and hopped onto the front of “Pelican Island,” where wildlife specialist Jackie Liptak was waiting with a bucket of breakfast. They dipped and shook in excitement.
“(They’re) living a very hard retirement plan,” Liptak joked to the dozen or so visitors watching. “A bed-and-breakfast every day, housekeeping and room service, just like all of you have.”
They were a relatively recent arrival to the resort. They each broke their left wing trying to escape a fishing line off the coast of Southern California, Liptak said. The now-flightless birds were rescued and moved to the resort for an extended stay beginning in 2012.
The other waterfowl at the free-to-enter habitat came from zoos, said the bird sanctuary’s aptly named wildlife curator, Robin Matos. She and some of the animals have been there since the habitat opened in 1995.
She has the best job and office on the Strip, she insists.
“It’s just a very quiet, relaxing space, unlike many spaces here in Las Vegas,” Matos said.
The resort keeps ducks, ibis, a black swan and, of course, the Chilean flamingos. The flamingos are the habitat’s oldest birds, with some in their early 40s, Liptak said.
Matos says the birds all have their personalities; ducks have their favorite caretakers, the pelicans love Liptak. The fish, too, have personalities. Some even come to the surface to be petted, she said.
However, it’s the territorial, oft-bickering flamingos that stand out from the crowd.
“It’s like a soap opera out there,” Matos said, “who’s with who, and who’s gonna stand over here, and ‘No, I’m gonna be here. You can’t. I’m gonna eat this food. You’ve gotta do it over here.’ I mean, they’re just so fun to watch.”
Chilean flamingos, which get their color from their filter-feeding diet of bacteria, crustaceans and algae, can withstand temperatures between -20 and 120 degrees, she said, adding that the resort only keeps animals that can handle the Las Vegas heat.
Two of its pluckiest residents, the pelican pair Bugsy and Virginia, are named after Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the mobster behind Flamingo’s opening in 1946, and his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.
Liptak, their favorite caretaker/food source, tossed sardines, herring and night smelt toward their gaping pouches during the morning feeding. They get about 1.5 pounds of fish per day.
“They cannot have an endless buffet like all of you,” she said to the early bird spectators, one holding a coffee cup and another a beer can.
They swallow their food whole. Well, they’re supposed to, anyway.
Virginia did her own thing, posing for the spectators at the edge of the pier before dropping a few of her fish into the pond.
After a few minutes of playing with her food, Virginia hopped right up to Liptak and began properly eating her breakfast.
“Obviously,” Liptak says, laughing, “she’s one of my besties.”