Staff at the Oregon Zoo recorded a rare Humboldt Penguin chick as it peeked out of a tiny hole it had made in its egg in preparation for hatching.
Like most baby birds, Penguins use a sharp bump on their beak called an “egg tooth” to “pip” or create an opening in the eggshell. Once the initial hole is created, the bird creates a crack around the circumference of the egg, then uses its feet to kick the two halves of the egg apart. Hatching is usually completed with no help from the parents.
The Penguin chick’s hatching went smoothly, and parents Blue and Esquela lavished attention on their new offspring. Adult penguins regurgitate their meals – which consist entirely of fish – creating a sort of “fish smoothie” for their chicks.
This high-fat, high-protein diet helps Penguin chicks grow rapidly, reaching adult size in about six months. But the chicks’ coloration gives their age away– they’ll remain grayish-brown for a few years before they develop their tuxedo-like black-and-white markings. Once the chicks lose their downy feathers and grow their smooth, waterproof, sub-adult plumage, they’ll begin swimming in the zoo’s Penguin habitat.
Several Penguin pairs are sitting on eggs, and the staff expects several more chicks to hatch before the end of breeding season.
Humboldt Penguins, which live along the coastlines of Peru and Chile, are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and in 2010 were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Of the world's 17 Penguin species, Humboldts are among the most at risk, threatened by overfishing of their prey species, entanglement in fishing nets, and breeding disruption due to commercial removal of the guano deposits where the Penguins lay their eggs. Their wild population is estimated at 12,000 breeding pairs.