Thanks to everyone who has been following developments with our first-ever penguin chicks. We regret to announce that the second chick died January 18. We’re still working to determine the cause. Fortunately you can still see the first chick and its parents in our Splash Zone exhibit.
On Saturday January 8, our aquarists were delighted to discover that a blackfooted penguin chick had hatched on exhibit for the first time ever. Two days later, during a feeding, staff heard chirping—“but it wasn’t coming from the right direction,” says Associate Curator of Aviculture Aimee Greenebaum.
The source of the happy sounds? A second chick, from an egg being incubated by foster parents in another part of the Splash Zone exhibit, had pecked a hole in its shell. By Tuesday afternoon, it had emerged and was “sitting in half a shell, using it as a comfy chair,” says Aimee.
Make that two baby penguins on exhibit!
The “birth” parents for both chicks are Dassen and Umngane, who are now rearing the first youngster in the middle of the exhibit. To help give the second egg a better chance of hatching and the chick a better chance of survival, it was given to another pair, Tranya and Molopo.
“Giving the second egg to foster parents increases the chance of success by reducing the workload,” says Aimee. “It’s easier to raise just one.” (The foster parenting process is standard procedure among member institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, especially with endangered or threatened animals that are part of a Species Survival Plan.) The adoptive parents, Tranya and Molopo, were selected in advance based on observations of their parenting instincts. In fact, the pair had already spent a week looking after a fake egg in preparation for the big event.
“They figured the fake egg was real thing, and we just switched it with the real one,” says Aimee.
What to Look For
Both pairs of parents, and their chicks, are happily ensconced in small caves on exhibit. Tranya and Molopo are near the bubble window, and Dassen and Umngane are in the middle of the exhibit. You can tell the males (Tranya and Dassen) by their bands, which are white with black letters. The females (Molopo and Umngane) have black bands with white letters.
Aimee cautions that the chicks “will be very difficult to see—the parents sit very tightly with their offspring.” (There is a "nest cam" and viewing monitor to provide visitors with a better view of one of the nests [not a web cam].)
One behavior to look for: when the parents feed their chicks, they shake their heads, open their beaks wide, and the chicks sticks their heads inside for a delicious meal of regurgitated fish.
“The next few weeks will be a lot of work,” says Aimee. Staff need to feed the parents five times their normal diet to keep their energy stores up and ensure that they have enough surplus food to give their chicks.
Once the chicks are up and walking, they’ll be moved behind the scenes and raised by hand to ensure their safety and survival. It’s important that they don’t fall into the water or get roughed up by older penguins on exhibit. Once the chicks fledge and grow juvenile plumage, at about 80 days, they’ll be re-introduced to the exhibit. At that point their feathers will be waterproof and they’ll be able to swim and walk about with confidence.
“The introduction back on exhibit will be slow,” predicts Aimee. “We want to be sure they’re comfortable getting in and out of the water, that other penguins aren’t picking on them, and that they’re comfortable around people.
“We’re very excited—they’re very cute chicks. There’s a lot that could happen so we’re taking it day by day, but the parents so far have been great and everyone is healthy.”