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A Whole Lotta (African Penguin) Hatchin' Goin' On at Toronto Zoo

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The Toronto Zoo had a lot of baby penguins hatch in 2012. This is the Zoo's first full calendar year for the breeding program which produced two sets of hatchings; three in the spring and five in December. That's a total of eight Endangered African Penguin chicks that joined their existing penguin colony. They will be on exhibit at their indoor enclosure within the African Savanna, starting mid-February. And, a fifth pair are still sitting on two eggs, due to hatch in mid-January! 

Two eggs are usually laid. The incubation period is about 40 days, with the male and female participating equally in the incubation duties. The length of the incubation shift is dependent on the availability of food at the time, but it is typically about two and a half days.

Although they form vast breeding colonies, these birds are monogamous. In the wild, pairs bond together and return to the same breeding sites year after year. They start breeding from between 2-6 years of age, but normally at 4 years old. They have a very interesting courtship display; the male performs a shuffling dance around the female, periodically touching her bill-end. There is an almost human-like embrace when the two birds stand breast to breast, enfolding each other with their flippers and with bills interlocked. This ritual reinforces the bond between them. About 80 to 90% of pairs remain together in consecutive breeding seasons, and some are known to have remained together for over 10 years.
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Photo Credit: Toronto Zoo
Read more about penguins mating ritual and rearing behavoir after the fold:

All penguins have a patch of bare skin at the base of their bellies, sometimes called a "brood patch"; this helps the parent provide enough heat to incubate the eggs. Following hatching the parents continue to brood the chicks. The chicks soon begin to attain control over their own body temperature. Adults feed their offspring by regurgitating food into the chicks mouth. Very young penguins are at risk from predators and the parents continue to guard them until they are about 30 days old. Parents at this point return to the sea. 

Chicks are then left alone in creches, or groups, a characteristic common to bird species that breed in large colonies, while their parents forage for food. The adults continue to feed chicks while the young are still present at the colony. Young penguins leave the colony once they develop their juvenile plumage, in between two to four months.

The current Zoo hatchings came from the following four pairings:
  • "DJ" and Ziggy": one hatching December 10
  • "Pedro" and "Thandi": one hatching December 16
  • "Greenbird and Colby": two hatchings December 20 and 22
  • "Buddy" and "Farai": one hatching December 23