The first of two Penguin chicks timed its arrival perfectly, at ZSL London Zoo, by hatching on Easter Monday (April 17).
Followed two days later by its feathery sibling, both Humboldt Penguin chicks are now being hand-reared by keepers in the Zoo’s custom-built incubation room, after their parents were unable to care for them.
Covered in soft grey feathers, the tiny birds are weighed every morning and hand-fed three times a day by their keepers, and can be seen by visitors cozying up to a cuddly toy Penguin under the warming glow of a heat lamp.
ZSL’s Head of Birds, Adrian Walls, said, “While everyone was tucking into chocolate eggs over Easter, the first Penguin chick of the year was hatching at ZSL London Zoo. It was great timing!”
Keepers at ZSL London Zoo are taking turns looking after the youngsters, who aren’t shy about letting them know when they’re “peck-ish”.
“The chicks’ bodyweight increases by around 20 per cent every day, so they grow extremely quickly and are always eager for their next meal,” said Adrian. “They make sure we know it’s feeding time…they may be only weeks old but they’ve definitely perfected their squawks already.”
The feisty fish-lovers are being fed a special diet of blended fish, vitamins and minerals, referred to by ZSL London Zoo’s bird keepers as ‘penguin milkshake’. But as they grow bigger, they’ll also be given small portions of fresh fish to support their development.
The chicks are expected to stay in the incubation room until they reach 10-weeks-old, by which time they should have grown from around 70g at hatch to 3kg in weight.
They’ll then move into the Zoo’s specially-designed ‘penguin nursery’, which includes a shallow pool for their swimming lessons, before eventually being introduced to the other 70 Humboldt Penguins in the colony.
The Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), also known as the Chilean Penguin, Peruvian Penguin, or Patranca, is a South American species that breeds in coastal Chile and Peru. Its nearest relatives are the African Penguin, the Magellanic Penguin and the Galápagos Penguin. The Penguin is named after the cold water current it swims in, which is named after Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer.
Humboldt Penguins are medium-sized, growing to 56–70 cm (22–28 in) long and a weight of 3.6-5.9 kg (8-13 lbs). They have a black head with a white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joins at the throat. They have blackish-grey upper parts and whitish underpants, with a black breast-band that extends down the flanks to the thigh. Juveniles have dark heads and no breast-band. They have spines on their tongue, which they use to hold their prey.
Humboldt’s nest on islands and rocky coasts, burrowing holes in guano and sometimes using scrapes or caves.
Penguins, for the most part, breed in large colonies. Living in colonies results in a high level of social interaction between birds, which has led to a large repertoire of visual as well as vocal displays in all penguin species.
Penguins form monogamous pairs for a breeding season. Most Penguins lay two eggs in a clutch. With the exception of the Emperor Penguin, where the male does it all, all Penguins share the incubation duties. These incubation shifts can last days, and even weeks, as one member of the pair feeds at sea.
Penguins generally only lay one brood; the exception is the Little Penguin, which can raise two or three broods in a season.
Penguin eggs are smaller than any other bird species, when compared proportionally to the weight of the parent birds. The relatively thick shell forms between 10 and 16% of the weight of a Penguin egg, presumably to minimize the risk of breakage in an adverse nesting environment. The yolk, too, is large, and comprises 22–31% of the egg. Some yolk often remains when a chick is born, and is thought to help sustain the chick if the parents are delayed in returning with food.
When mothers lose a chick, they sometimes attempt to "steal" another mother's chick, usually unsuccessfully as other females in the vicinity assist the defending mother in keeping her chick. In some species, such as Emperor Penguins, young Penguins assemble in large groups called crèches.
Due to a declining population caused in part by over-fishing, climate change, and ocean acidification, the Humboldt Penguin is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.