Penguin_chickShedd’s Magellanic chicks have joined the eight adult Magellanics and 12 rockhoppers in the penguin habitat. Here’s a recap of their development plus an update on their progress, courtesy of trainer and penguin lead Lana Vanagasem, since we last reported on them June 10.

Our five penguin chicks made the trip from the San Francisco Zoo to Shedd as eggs in a portable incubator, securely strapped into their own business-class seat on a commercial flight. Lana was beside them the whole trip. The day after the eggs arrived, May 15, the first chick pipped its eggshell, beginning the laborious task of hatching. The chicks were fully hatched out between May 16 and 24, after an average of 40 days of incubation. The white spot on the end of each bird’s beak is an “egg tooth,” a sharp bump that helps puncture the egg membranes and shell, then drops off within a few weeks.

Penguin_ChickLana and the penguin team literally had their hands full hand-feeding the days-old chicks every few hours. Positioning their fingers like a parent’s mouth around the chicks’ beaks stimulated a feeding response, allowing the trainers to pump a puree of herring, krill, vitamins and water down the waiting mouths. By the time each bird was a couple of days old, it was already taking formula from a trainer’s fingers and getting rice-grain-sized bits of fish. The size of the solid food was slowly increased until the nearly full-sized birds were gulping down whole fish by mid-July.

Penguin_ChickFor company and something soft to snuggle under, the chicks were given plush penguin toys. Chick 405, shown at 6 days old, naturally found the toy’s “brood spot” – what on mom or dad penguin would be a bare patch of skin that transmits body heat. In the warm nursery, the chicks had heat lamps to keep them warm. By the way, 405 can be identified by the blue tag – really soft embroidery floss – around his (or maybe her – it’s hard to tell at this age) wing. All the birds now sport regular i.d. bands on their wings.

On June 12, the youngest and oldest birds were posed together. What a difference eight days makes with these fast-growing birds.

At about a month-and-a-half old, in early July, the oldest bird had grown-up waterproof feathers, but not adult black-and-white plumage or the C-shaped cheek stripe. So you’ll be able to spot the juveniles easily on exhibit. When the birds are about a year old, they’ll molt these feathers and get the classic penguin formal look.

Penguin_ChickOn July 31, all five had their first swimming lesson in a reserve pool. (Lana did not have to get in the water with them and demonstrate the penguin paddle). The birds made a beeline for the water and soon got the knack of bobbing and paddling around. Since then, the chicks have had 24-hour access to the pool to practice their swimming skills. Lana and the penguin team are now confident that the chicks are ready to take the big plunge in the penguin habitat, so look for them in Polar Play Zone.

Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor