This year the Aquarium celebrated the hatching of two baby penguins. Aviculturist and resident “penguin mother” Sara Mandel explains what it’s like to raise these chicks from when they hatch until they’re ready to join the rest of the colony on exhibit at the June Keyes Penguin Habitat.
Each spring my fellow aviculturists and I wait on pins and needles as we speculate over which penguins will pair up for mating season. Will Ludwig win over Kate’s heart, or will she stay with Avery? Who will Paddles choose as her first mate? Will Henry ever find true love?!
It turned out that the two sets of parents this year were Kate and Avery and Patsy and Robbie. This was Kate and Avery’s second chick, while Patsy and Rob were first-time parents.
Once an egg is laid, it typically takes thirty-eight to forty-two days to hatch. During this time we monitor the state of the eggs and examine them with a flashlight to make sure they’re viable, or capable of hatching successfully.
Once the chicks have hatched, we weigh them every day to ensure they’re developing properly. A healthy chick will gain 10 percent of its body weight a day.
The babies stay with their parents for about thirty days. After about a month of 24/7 care, mama penguin is ready for a break, and the baby is ready to leave the nest and head to our behind-the-scenes area for “swim school!”
You might be wondering: Why don’t the babies learn to swim and grow up with their parents on exhibit? It’s actually very unsafe for the juveniles to enter the colony at such a vulnerable stage. Their newborn downy feathers naturally trigger aggression in adult penguins, which puts them at risk. Plus, they are unable to swim and are practically defenseless.
The chicks spend three months at swim school, where our staff of penguin keepers teaches them how to be penguins. Besides learning how to swim, they’re taught how to eat whole fish from our hands, and how to interact with humans.
Once they’ve fledged their last set of downy feathers, it’s time for graduation day, when they join the rest of the colony!
Since I spend so much time caring for our chicks, I often feel like a surrogate mother to many of them. Seeing them successfully integrate with the colony and become exemplary adult penguins is a truly proud moment for me as an aviculturist!
Next time you are at the Aquarium, be sure to stop by and see our two newest members of the penguin family. You can also check in on them by viewing one of our penguin webcams.