When a Tufted Puffin chick hatched in the Oregon Coast Aquarium's Seabird Aviary on July 24, it seemed as if everything was going to plan.
The baby bird, nicknamed Stella, weighed in at a healthy 2.26 ounces (64 grams) and was under the care of experienced parents.
By Stella’s day-two checkup, something was clearly amiss. The chick was not gaining weight. The parents were not delivering fish or brooding the chick to keep it warm as Puffin parents should.
Following a second day of careful observation, it was clear Stella needed an intervention. The aviculturists brought the chick behind the scenes to be hand-raised.
“We do not want Stella to imprint on us, so we limit interactions to feeding and cleaning time, and make adult Puffin noises as we feed,” said CJ McCarty, curator of birds for the aquarium.
“Stella is so fluffy it is a little hard to resist cuddling, but because we plan to reintegrate this Puffin with the population in the Seabird Aviary, minimizing human contact is in its best interest.”
During the early days, a heat lamp kept Stella warm, and a feather duster stood in its parents’ stead for snuggling. The aquarium’s aviculturists fed it every two hours, and even came in late and early to ensure it receives the nourishment it needed.
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Despite its early circumstances, Stella is growing at a healthy rate and weighed 1.27 pounds (574 grams) during its day-31 checkup.
Now just over one month old, Stella is losing the downy chick feathers on its chest and face to make way for grown-up feathers. A complete set of adult, waterproof feathers indicates the little seabird is ready for water.
Aviculturists will start Stella’s practice swims in small pools behind the scenes, making sure the bird is a strong swimmer before its next transition.
If Stella turns out to be a male, the bird will be assigned an identification number, as all the Aquarium’s birds are, and transition to the Seabird Aviary. If Stella is a female, she will be placed with another Association of Zoos & Aquariums accredited facility that has requested a female Tufted Puffin.
The aquarium's other Puffin chicks are thriving in their burrows, and should start to explore the aviary on their own in the next week or two. A Common Murre chick is already exploring the aviary, and maintains constant vocal communication with its parents while away from its nest site.
Like Stella, the other new additions will find a home at other facilities, or take up permanent residence in the Seabird Aviary among Black Oystercatchers, Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots and Horned Puffins.