The African Penguin chick siblings, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, are shedding their fluffy down feathers and growing their grey and white juvenile plumage.
Juvenile feathers are water resistant, so now there’s lots of swim practice for the brother and sister.
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore happily announced the arrival of the two African penguin chicks back in November, and ZooBorns shared news of the birth, as well. They were the first chicks to hatch during the 2015-2016 breeding season at Penguin Coast. The chicks’ parents are Mega and Rossi. The male hatched on November 5 and the female on November 9.
The Maryland Zoo has been a leader in breeding African Penguins for over 40 years, winning the prestigious Edward H. Bean Award for the “African Penguin Long-term Propagation Program” from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in 1996.
The Zoo has the largest colony of the birds in North America, with over 60 birds currently residing in Penguin Coast, along with six special penguins that are used as “Animal Ambassadors” and live in the Penguin Encounters building at the exhibit.
“Our penguins are bred according to recommendations from the AZA African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP) which helps maintain their genetic diversity,” said Jen Kottyan, Avian Collection and Conservation Manager. “Many of the African Penguins previously bred at the Zoo now inhabit zoo and aquarium exhibits around the world.”
Penguin chicks hatch approximately 38 to 42 days after the egg is laid. Zookeepers, at the Maryland Zoo, monitor development of the eggs by candling them about a week after they are laid to see if they are fertile and developing. The eggs are then placed back with the parents.
“With African Penguins, both the male and the female take turns sitting on the eggs,” said Kottyan. “Once the eggs hatch, parents take turns caring for their offspring; they each protect, feed, and keep the chick or chicks warm for 2-3 days and then switch off.”
After hatching, the two chicks stayed with their parents for about three weeks and were fed regurgitated fish from both of their parents. During this time, zookeepers and veterinarians kept a close eye on the development of the chicks, weighing and measuring them daily for the first week to make sure that the parents were properly caring for each chick.
At three-weeks-old, the keepers began hand rearing the chicks to start to teach them that keepers are a source of food and to acclimate them to human interaction. “Over the years we have found that beginning the hand- rearing process at three weeks gives the chicks a great head start with their development,” continued Kottyan. “They will still retain the natural instincts of a wild penguin, while allowing us to properly care for them.”
The siblings are now starting to lose their downy feathers, and the grey plumage that distinguishes juvenile penguins from the adults now covers them. They are learning how to swim and will now be slowly introduced to the rest of the penguin colony.