The newest and youngest penguin at Shedd Aquarium has reached a new milestone – independent socialization without its parents. The rockhopper chick that was hatched in June has been weaned and is becoming more independent. Now, the bird has begun spending time with other members of the colony behind the scenes, including one of the oldest penguins at Shedd and a local celebrity – Wellington – who also happens to be its grandfather. This is part of ongoing care, welfare and enrichment for the almost 2-and-a-half-month-old chick.
This increased socialization with the other penguins and animal care team members is an important step for the chick to continue acclimating and developing. The chick is nearly fully grown, recently weighing in at 4.5 pounds and measuring up to about the same height as the adults. Additionally, the newest arrival has almost completely shed its downy feathers for the sleek, water-proof ones of an adult. This will soon enable the chick to begin swimming, another critical milestone before officially rejoining the colony in the Polar Play Zone.
During the meet and greet with Wellington, the grand-chick vocalized and explored the space. Wellington is a 35-year-old rockhopper penguin considered geriatric and well beyond the average lifespan for the species (typically listed as around 10-15 years). Alongside Magdalena, another 35-year-old penguin in the colony, he is among the longest-lived penguins in Shedd’s history. The elder penguin was a viral star during the height of the pandemic – roaming the guest-less halls of a temporarily closed Shedd.
The chick will spend time behind the scenes until the newest colony member has become a competent swimmer, and Shedd staff are confident it can swim independently in the front-of-scenes habitat. Next steps include a blood draw to determine the sex of the bird and then potentially a name for the young chick.
BACKGROUND: Rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome) are one of two penguin species cared for at Shedd, in addition to Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus). The aquarium has had success in breeding both species in the past but has put a special emphasis on rockhopper breeding this year, as that species is underrepresented in zoos and aquariums. This chick is the first rockhopper penguin to hatch at the aquarium in 8 years, having successfully broken out of its shell on Thursday, June 15.
Shedd also actively contributes to penguin research and conservation efforts globally, applying animal care expertise and scientific resources to better understand how penguins in the wild are being impacted by climate change.
VISUALS: The chick and his grandfather spend some time interacting at the beginning of this video, with both birds vocalizing and stretching their wings. The last half of the video shows the chick interacting with animal care specialists and eating a small fishy snack.
Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez