Tennessee Aquarium Announces First Penguin Chick Of 2014

Aviculturists Happy With Bouncing Baby Macaroni

Monday, July 14, 2014 - by Thom Benson
- photo by Tennessee Aquarium

There’s a fluffy new face in the Tennessee Aquarium’s Penguins’ Rock exhibit. Aviculturists welcomed the new chick to the colony in June. The proud parents, “Chaos” and “Merlin,” stay busy snuggling their baby in the nest and seem to enjoy showing it off to everyone.

“Both parents have very laid back personalities, which is helpful when we need to do weight checks and clean the nest,” said senior aviculturist Amy Graves. “They’re also a great parental team. Merlin serves as protector and Chaos does a great job feeding.”

Chaos certainly keeps busy since this tiny bird has a giant appetite. Aquarium guests can have fun eavesdropping on this family. A microphone inside the exhibit picks up the chick’s vocalizations whenever it begs to be fed, which seems to be almost constantly lately. The sounds of the colony are audible throughout Penguins’ Rock. But, mom responds to the begging and appears to be keeping pace. Her baby consistently weighs in at the high end of the healthy range during veterinary exams. “Baby penguins should experience rapid growth,” said Ms. Graves. “We track each chick’s progress through frequent weigh-ins and compare the results to the ranges we know are considered healthy. Since this penguin is staying pretty pudgy, it’s clear that the parents are doing a great job with feeding.”

The Aquarium’s penguin experts hope this “big mac” sets a good example for the chicks that follow it. Both in demeanor and rapid growth.

Last year aviculturists had their hands full supplementing feedings for a couple of chicks up to five times each day when sluggish weight gains indicated the parents were not delivering enough nutrition on their own.

Aviculturist Loribeth Aldrich says even though the chick is very vocal, it seems to have inherited its parent’s demeanor. “He’s pretty laid-back and easygoing,” said Ms. Aldrich. “The chick doesn’t mind being handled during exams or being photographed.”

This is quite a switch from “Pepper,” another Macaroni who was also the Aquarium’s very first baby penguin hatchling in 2009. “She was a feisty bird almost from the day she hatched,” said Ms. Aldrich.

Earlier this year, Pepper and ten other penguins that were reared at the Aquarium were moved to other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They will have the opportunity to have offspring of their own while bolstering the overall genetic diversity of the Macaroni and Gentoo population in human care. This transfer also affords the Aquarium’s colony more flipper room during the breeding season.

This new Macaroni penguin is the first for the 2014 season and it’s possible that aviculturists will remain very busy this season with additional chicks.

Visitors can see the new chick inside an acrylic “playpen” on the right-hand side of the exhibit. It will remain inside this protective barrier for several more weeks before it will be allowed to roam outside the nest. “Penguins need their waterproof swim feathers before they are ready to go out on their own,” said Ms. Graves. “Right now, the chick is still dependent on mom and dad, but they seem to like that just fine.”

The chick’s gender will be determined during a blood test later this year. At that time, a Facebook contest is planned to find the perfect name for him or her.

Guests who may want a “bird’s eye” view during nesting season, can choose to add the Ocean Journey Backstage Pass to their regular Aquarium admission. This behind-the-scenes experience allows guests into one of the “Keepers Only” areas to see the nesting penguins, eggs and at least one plump little penguin.

- Photo2 by Tennessee Aquarium

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