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Penguins at Shedd Aquarium are Building Nests, Offering a Glimpse at Coupling Behaviors

The Penguins are Pairing Off and Providing a Unique Look at An Important Natural Behavior

March 30, 2023

A group of penguins crowd around a pile of rocks, picking them up

Chicago’s resident penguins at Shedd Aquarium are participating in their annual nesting season, part of their natural life cycle and a crucial step in their reproductive process. Guests who visit Shedd may have opportunities to see the colony in the process of building these nests, pairing up or sharing a nest with their chosen mate in the Polar Play Zone.

As part of the birds’ care, the daily light cycle in their habitat has been altered to signal the start of the weeks-long season, and nest-building materials, including rocks, pieces of hose and lavender, to mimic options available in their native habitats, have been provided. Both species of penguins residing at Shedd – rockhopper and Magellanic – will have ample opportunities to participate in the nest building and pairing processes.

To attract a female mate or reinforce an existing bond, male penguins will typically build their own nests, although female penguins, once paired, also help with the construction process. Rockhoppers, in particular, carefully select and carry rocks one by one in their beak to build their nests. This does not mean the males are above stealing materials from other males' nests – sometimes, they will take stones from other nests to adorn their own.

If nesting results in an egg or even a chick, the bonded pair share the responsibilities of incubating, brooding and eventually feeding their offspring. While there is always the possibility of this process leading to a new chick joining the colony, it is not always the case, as not all eggs laid are fertile or able to fully develop.

In addition to allowing Shedd guests a peek into penguins’ life cycle, facilitating the nesting process each year contributes to the shared and cooperatively managed Species Survival Plan for rockhopper penguins, led by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a species listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). To support Shedd Aquarium’s mission and dedication to top-quality animal care for penguins and other aquatic animals, guests can plan a visit or look for other ways to get involved on Shedd’s website.

VISUALS: High resolution photos and broadcast-quality footage are available for download:

Photo/Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium