Tennessee Aquarium aviculturists have their hands full caring for a pair of macaroni penguin chicks. “These baby penguins are absolutely adorable with fuzzy flippers, oversized feet and pudgy little bellies,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “They are portly, but that’s great. We like to see vocal chicks that spend a good part of their day begging their parents for food.”
The first baby was born on May 24, to parents Hercules and Shamrock. This is their first chick at the Aquarium and the parents appear to be very diligent, although they don’t share the same duties. “Hercules is the protector. He only feeds the chick about 10 percent of the time,” said aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich. “But he is constantly watching over the baby even when mom is in the nest.” Fortunately, Aldrich says Shamrock really has a strong feeding instinct that more than satisfies a very vocal, and very hungry chick. “Normally chicks will beg and beg for food, but I’ve actually seen her feed this chick so full that he just stops begging,” said Ms. Aldrich. “He’s like, I’ve had enough.” Aquarium guests can see this baby penguin near the center of the exhibit inside an acrylic “playpen” which keeps it from accidently going into the water before it grows large enough to do so safely.
Paulie and Chaos, the macaroni pair that successfully raised “Pepper” - the Aquarium’s first-ever baby penguin, are in a backup area with their chick. Paulie was involved in a scuffle with at least one other male early in the breeding season. “Aggressive behavior among males is not uncommon while they are building nests, so this couple was moved to a backup area for what was supposed to be a short time,” said Ms. Aldrich. “But when Chaos laid her second egg in this backup area, we decided they were comfortable enough to stay there until we saw what would happen with the egg. Now it looks like they’ll stay here until this chick is big enough to go on exhibit.” Both of the parents get time with the rest of the colony to swim and then they head back to feed and tend to their chick. As proven parents, they continue to feed this chick well.
Keepers will continue to monitor the progress of both chicks closely as there are still many potential pitfalls for young birds to overcome. But if they continue to progress as quickly as they’ve started, Aquarium guests might see them outside the nests in a few weeks. “We’ll begin supervised walkabouts with the other penguins when their swim feathers grow in,” said Ms. Graves. “But even then we’ll have to see how the other birds react to the newcomers.”
Gentoo penguins usually lag behind the macaronis when it comes to nest-building and breeding, but keepers are monitoring the progress of several pairs that currently have eggs. “We don’t know how many may be viable, but it’s possible that we could have an even busier summer ahead,” said Ms. Graves.
Visitors may choose to add a Backstage Pass tour to their regular Aquarium visit. http://www.tnaqua.org/PlanYourVisit/BackstagePass.aspx The afternoon backstage pass gives guests an opportunity to go above “Penguins’ Rock” for the bird’s eye view of the exhibit where keepers and volunteers monitor the parents and the nests below.
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