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The Story of Heidi and Anderson

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Animal Updates | Birds | Penguins

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Sara

The Story of Heidi and Anderson
Heidi is in the front, and Anderson is snuggling with his penguin "mommy". They are 7 weeks old here, note how you can still see the soft fuzzy baby down.  | Sara Mandel

Meet Heidi and Anderson, the first chicks born at the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. This is their story, from egg to fully feathered juveniles.

Penguin chicks are one of the most adorable things on the planet! I am so happy and proud that Roxy and Floyd became first-time parents to Heidi and Anderson this past June. Heidi hatched on June 19th, followed by Anderson on the 25th. Heidi was already twice the size of Anderson, and to ensure the best health for both chicks and first-time parents, we made the decision to hand raise little Anderson. While taking care of a baby penguin was a dream come true, it was some of the hardest work I have ever done; and yet some of the most rewarding as well.

Magellanic penguin eggs are laid about 4-7 days apart and take 38-42 days to hatch. Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the chicks, and have a specialized brood patch to help keep their eggs and chicks warm. A few days prior to hatching, a penguin’s body starts to slow down their metabolism to prepare for the task of feeding their young. The process of pip to hatch for a penguin takes anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Once the chick has hatched from the egg, it absorbs the rest of the nutrient rich yolk sac by way of an umbilicus (like an umbilical cord, but for birds! This umbilicus actually dries and falls off, similar to our belly button.) for about 2 days. Once the yolk sac is absorbed the chick begins to vocalize to get the attention of mommy and daddy. In fact, the chick has a unique call that immediately alerts their parents, and the more loud and obnoxious the call, the quicker the food seems to be delivered. Now its time for the parents’ real work to begin, since a penguin chick will gain about 10 percent of their body weight for the first 35-40 days of life. The parents are put to work by regurgitating delicious fish barf into their babies bills, taking turns hunting for food, and feeding their new chicks.

Magellanic penguins only breed once a year, and will burrow to make a nest, gathering different types of plant material to line their nests. Our breeding season started around March this year, and was the first one in the June Keyes Penguin Habitat. We gathered palm fronds for our birds to use as nesting material, and when the birds became rather obsessed with it I knew that it was breeding time. At the time we had 4 females to the 9 males on exhibit, so I knew that it was time for the soap opera to begin.

  • Avery, Kate and Robbie were always hanging out with one another, but when Avery started gathering palm fronds, only Kate was allowed in that burrow. Well, if she were around that is, in fact if she happened to be taking a swim, Robbie would actually be allowed in that burrow to hang out with his buddy Avery. Kate didn’t let this “fly” for long, and soon Robbie was making his own burrow next door.
  • Meanwhile, Floyd had started to work diligently on his burrow, and Roxy was very pleased, she seemed to watch him build this burrow from afar until it was up to her standards.
  • Shim claimed a burrow for himself and Whatever, but would only build it at night, at the expense of others. He would steal palm fronds from neighboring burrows!
  • Noodles also built a nice nest for Patsy, and they occupied it for quite some time.

The fact that this was our first breeding season, made what the birds were going to somewhat of a surprise, so I took copious notes to help understand what those birds were going to do, and to also help with the many breeding seasons to come.

Floyd and Roxy were first-time parents, and did such an amazing job! They both shared the responsibility of incubating the eggs. Heidi hatched first on June 19th, and six days later Anderson hatched. While we were raising Anderson, Roxy and Floyd did a wonderful job taking turns feeding and keeping Heidi warm. Meanwhile, we were raising Anderson behind the scenes. He would get anywhere from 5-7 feeds from us a day, and while he was such a cute little pipsqueak he made a huge mess! We would make a “smoothie” for him every day that had krill, capelin, herring, and vitamins, then we would warm it up and hand feed him. I had hand-raised some of our Lorikeets before, but this was a new challenge. I had to elicit the feeding response, which meant make a “v” with my hand that would be placed around his bill, just like a penguin parent would to get him to start eating. He ate about 10 percent of his body weight every feed, and we fed him on the scale to ensure an accurate amount was given. Once he started to get stronger, we began to give him some yummy fish parts, and he got stronger every day. He learned my voice before he could see me since penguin chicks keep their eyes closed for the first 2 weeks of life. But I learned his voice from day one, and can still hear it some times in my sleep. I loved being able to watch him grow, and am looking forward to this breeding season, but the amount of work that went into being able to enjoy the cuteness will never be forgotten.

Penguin chicks fledge or leave the nest at about 2 months old, and tend to hang out together in what’s called a creche. Heidi and Anderson got the chance to socialize with one another behind the scenes, where they helped each other learn what being a penguin is like. They had the softest brown down that they lost around day 70, at which point you could start to see the waterproof plumage emerge from underneath. At this time, in their natural habitat the creche is given more independence from their parents, and they begin to explore the ocean, where they learn to catch their own prey. We didn’t have to teach Heidi or Anderson how to swim, and they both picked up on how to preen and splash in the water immediately. At this point, we were hand feeding whole or half capelin and herring, and introducing them to various things such as enrichment and husbandry tools such as the scale we would way them on, and a few fun toys. We gave them a chance to grow up, and they made their debut to the exhibit this past September. They both were a bit big for their britches and attempted to take on the largest birds in the habitat! In fact Heidi goosed Henry’s tail from behind and then took off… do I sense a new love connection?

You may wonder where Anderson got his full name from (we also call him Andy for short). He was actually named by the Molina family at our past annual fundraiser Sea Fare.

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