NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – When you think of flamingos, you probably think of some tropical paradise. But they do surprisingly well in colder temperatures.

“We have two species of flamingoes here at the zoo,” explained Megan Fox, Nashville Zoo Bird Keeper. “We have Caribbean Flamingos and Greater Flamingos. And when you think of flamingos, a lot of people think they are just a warm-weather animal. But they are found in lots of different habitats, including very cold climates. So, they can deal with cold weather pretty easily, but they have a lot of adaptations to help them with that, the most important being their feathers. So, feathers are very important to a bird. But they kind of act like is how we as humans wear a lot of layers in like cold weather right now.”

And the air between those feathers becomes the insulator.

“So, when we’re wearing long sleeves, and jackets and things like that, it’s creating little pockets of air in between those layers that warm from our body heat,” Fox said. “Feather s work the exact same way. They have down feathers at the bottom and they’ve got the feather layers on top. And that kind of heats around there and keeps them warm. So, that’s how they stay warm is with all those different layers of feathers. Now, something you might see flamingos do a lot is kind of stand on one leg. They tuck one leg up. And that helps them stay warm, too. They tuck their legs up into their feathers and that will also keep them warm. And a really funny thing that flamingos do, is they will actually turn their head all the way around and tuck their beak into their feathers, kind of on their back. That’s a lot of exposed skin. So, they will do that to stay warm, as well.”

And there are lots of other animals at the Nashville Zoo that are cold weather tolerant.

Red Panda: Courtesy of Jim Bartoo and Nashville Zoo

Some are more obvious, like the red panda.

“Obviously, we have the red pandas, which are our stereotypical cold weather animal here at the zoo,” Fox explained. “They are a species that live in the high Himalayas. They’re used to this kind of cold weather.”

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But there are some other animals you might not think of being cold-weather tolerant.

“You might see things like clouded leopards on a cooler day, the tigers on a cooler day, the bears on a cooler day, not always. A lot of birds, actually, too. You almost always see the flamingos outside, our cranes, and the ducks up at the front. The hiyas and the macaws, even. They can be out in cooler weather, as well,” Fox said.

Cougar: Courtesy of Kate Sarber and Nashville Zoo


“The farm animals will always be out, our domestic livestock that we have there, our heritage breeds over at the farm. They love cold weather, especially our sheep! They’ve got that nice layer of wool that they have that helps them stay warm. They love being out in cold weather. We’ve got barn owls over there that you will always be able to see. We have free-roaming peacocks, as well. Our free-roaming peacocks are always out. They are actually very cold tolerant. So, you might be lucky and see them roaming around the zoo.”

Cotswold Sheep: Courtesy of Amiee Stubbs and Nashville Zoo

Fox said all of the zoo’s animals have a temperature guideline that staff can use. “It’s based off of each species and what’s best for them. So, in the winter, obviously, not everything can be outside. But for every single animal, we have at the zoo, we do have an indoor space for them to stay in. And usually in the winter is when we utilize a lot of our extra enrichment. We do a lot of fun things like, if it snows, we bring in snow for them to play with for a little bit. We give them lots of toys and lots of different types of enrichment, like brows and dirt to dig in and all kinds of stuff. So, we make their indoor spaces really enriching.”

So whether it’s warm or cold, there are always plenty of animals to enjoy at the Nashville Zoo.