It’s a girl! The National Aviary today announced the sex and name of the newest addition to the flock: an endangered African Penguin chick that hatched on January 3. A DNA feather test was performed, the results of which revealed that the chick is female. Generous donor, board member, and friend of the National Aviary, Rich Caruso, named the penguin, now known as Marge, in honor of his mother.
In a video released by the National Aviary, Senior Aviculturist Chris Gaus opens a large toy egg, revealing a plush pink penguin doll nestled inside. On the wing of the penguin is a thin black band reading “Marge.” This wing band, used for identification purposes, will later be placed on the wing of Marge the penguin herself.
Marge is the eleventh African Penguin to hatch at the National Aviary, and the first to hatch to parents Buddy and Holly. With only 13,000 pairs remaining in the wild in South Africa, African Penguins are endangered, and their populations have experienced precipitous declines. Every hatching represents progress for the future of this charismatic species.
“I am pleased to work with the National Aviary to name their new African Penguin chick in honor of my mother, Margaret Caruso, and I would like to thank the National Aviary for their exemplary work saving birds and protecting their habitats,” said Rich Caruso. “My mother is nearing her 100th birthday, and she loves the National Aviary and is looking forward to visiting again to see Marge the penguin once the pandemic ends.”
There is no way to determine the sex of a penguin just by looking. A DNA test is performed once the penguin begins to grow its juvenile feathers. These feathers replace the chick’s soft, downy fuzz, making the penguin waterproof and prepared for a life of diving and swimming. As these juvenile feathers grow in, the distinctive “tuxedo” look, the hallmark of African Penguins, begins to emerge. At almost three months old, Marge is nearing her full adult size.
The National Aviary participates in the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) for African Penguins. A collaborative effort among Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institutions, SSPs work to enhance conservation of the species and ensure the entire population of African Penguins remains genetically diverse and demographically stable for the long-term future.
The National Aviary is also the leader of the Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program for African Penguins. SAFE is a collaborative, international effort to identify and address conservation challenges faced by African Penguins across their range. Human disturbances, including over-fishing, human activity at nesting sites, and disasters like oil spills, have had a profound impact on African Penguin populations. The National Aviary provides practical steps visitors can take to ease the pressures on African Penguins and other wildlife, including buying sustainable seafood, using less plastic, and supporting the work of conservation organizations.
For a short time, National Aviary visitors may be able to see Marge, who will make appearances in the Avian Care Center window, daily from 12:30-2:00 p.m. The National Aviary has enhanced safety protocols in place that align with CDC and Allegheny County Health Department guidelines. The financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been profound and capacity limitations continue to limit revenue. The National Aviary is committed to providing high quality, uncompromising care for the more than 500 animals that call the National Aviary home. The support of caring community members helps the National Aviary provide exceptional care for birds like this African Penguin chick. Donations can be made at aviary.org.