Tennessee Aquarium's newest penguin chicks
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Three baby gentoo penguins have appeared at the Tennessee Aquarium, at about the same time that this year's macaroni chicks are starting to swim.
"This is definitely a surprise," said Aquarium aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. "No one predicted that we would have five penguin chicks this year."
All of the newest arrivals are being raised by their parents on exhibit, causing a bit of excitement for visitors and the animals alike. "We see the faces of guests light up when the parents are feeding or tending to these adorable little penguins," said Aldrich. "At the same time, the dynamic inside the exhibit changes too. The parents are very protective of the chicks and their nests, but even the birds without chicks are still very excited about what's going on in the other nests."
Aldrich and the other keepers are remaining vigilant as the first 30 days is a critical period for young birds. But at this point, the parents appear to be doing great jobs caring for their young. "So far the parents are feeding well and the chicks are all very vocal, seem strong and are all moving around the nests, but they still have a long road ahead," said Aldrich. "The two that are now three weeks old can only fit their heads under their parents. The younger one will be a bit more challenging to see since it fits completely under the parents right now."
This trio of gentoo babies can be seen in three separate nests. Chick number three can be seen on the far left of the exhibit. This tiny penguin hatched on July 30th to parents Pebbles and Zeus. According to senior aviculturist Amy Graves, this couple is always the last to build a nest and lay eggs. "Their nest is off on the far left, so they're all by themselves," said Graves. "In 2009, this was the hotspot that all of the penguins wanted. This year, no one wanted it." Graves says Pebbles is a rather reserved mother, but is tending to the chick well. Zeus is the second largest gentoo at the Aquarium. "Zeus is great at feeding and protecting," said Graves. "It's just amazing to see such big birds sitting on such a tiny, fragile little chick in a rocky nest. They have to be so careful because one wrong move and they could injure the chick."
The other two chicks hatched on the same day – July 18th. Visitors can observe Nipper and Flower caring for gentoo chick number two in the middle of the exhibit. "This is their first chick and so far they have turned out to be great parents," said Graves. "Nipper is kind of an ‘over-the-top protector' which makes it challenging for the keepers. He's really living up to his name right now." On the other hand, Flower has a very gentle nature. Time will tell whether the baby will turn out to be feisty or friendly.
Gentoo chick number one can be seen in the nest on the far right-hand side of the exhibit. This chick, the offspring of Poncho and Peep, is one of the year's big surprises. "Peep is our oldest penguin," said Graves. "She is 20 years old and has only produced infertile eggs in the past. We were a bit amazed when this chick appeared." Both Poncho and Peep are sharing parental duties, but dad likes having his fish delivered. He loves smelt, but wouldn't leave his nest at mealtime. "He was vocalizing and honking each time I passed by, so I offered a small bowl of smelt to him on the nest and he ate every last one," said Graves. "So now he often gets his own special bowl of fish. It makes him a happy and calm dad and that's what we want."
Keepers will track feedings and weights carefully to ensure the new penguins are getting enough food from the parents. They also spend extra time keeping the nests as clean as possible while making sure the parents remain comfortable. Once these chicks become more mobile, keepers have the additional chore of making sure they don't wander out of the nest too soon. "This first month of life is critical to all baby penguins," said Dave Collins, the Aquarium's curator of forests. "We won't rest easy until these chicks have shed their soft, downy feathers and have taken their first supervised swim with the other penguins."