On the Job With Denver Zoo Animal Care Specialist Brittney Hufford

At Denver Zoo, flamingo flocks strut their stuff on enrichment walks under the guidance of Brittney Hufford.

Denver Zoo Animal Care Specialist Brittney Hufford
Photo by Matt Nager.

At Denver Zoo, flamingos aren’t just feathered decor, they’re the headlining act. These pink icons, naturally toned from their dinner plate, parade around like the rock stars they’re all named after. And who’s their manager? Brittney Hufford, a dedicated animal care specialist for the birds with 18 years under her belt. Since 2020, she’s been leading these vibrant walks. “We assumed it would be enriching for the flamingos to get out and stretch their wings,” she says. “What we didn’t realize is how enriching it would become for the other animals as well.” Intrigued by these strutting sensations? Hufford shares some backstage tales about feathered superstars like Freddie Mercury, a 53-year-old Caribbean flamingo taking social media by storm.

“Imagine strolling through the zoo and turning the corner where you are met by flamingos walking on the pathway right toward you—it’s sheer delight and awe. And then you have a chance to join in the walk and follow the flamingos on their route.”

“We keep the flamingo walks unscheduled to provide those organic, impromptu moments that take our visitors by surprise.”

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“Flamingos are a naturally nomadic species. Our walks are an opportunity for the birds to get out and about and be stimulated in a different, positive way.”

“A typical walk includes six to 10 flamingos. All the birds in our ‘Ambassador Flock’ are given the same choice to participate. Keepers simply open their habitat door, and some birds volunteer to go on that walk.”

“Llamas show a particular interest as the flamingos walk by their habitat—as do the primates and greater one-horned rhinos. But the penguins will stop everything and stare when the flamingos visit their pools.”

“Freddie Mercury participated in only a few walks. He has a new mate that is influencing his choices. If a particular bird volunteers to walk, we often see the mate will choose to join so they can walk together.”

“I have a strong connection with Legend, a 4-year-old Chilean flamingo. He’s always gravitated toward me. And I think because of our relationship, he prefers brunette women, and he’ll often be seen interacting with them on his public walks.”

“There is such power in having a personal animal experience. When people learn about an animal, it opens the gateway for empathy and eventual change.”

“We expect our new flamingo habitat, opening later this year, to generate excitement, but the flamingos are already an attraction worth seeing.”

“The new habitat will provide each flamingo with more choice and control of their surroundings, which is the ideal standard for any animal to thrive.”

“One day, a little girl, decked out from head to toe in flamingo clothing and pink accessories, could not believe her eyes when she stumbled across our walk. ‘Flamingos are my favorite animal in the whole world!’ she said. Her mother, with tears in her eyes, expressed how this was the best thing she’d ever experienced and how this would be a day they remembered forever. This is the power of flamingos.”