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Introducing Magellanic Penguin Chick Nia

The Magellanic penguin chick nicknamed “Megatron” by her caregivers because of her rapid growth now has a real name, chosen by the entire Shedd staff and the volunteers. Meet Nia (NEE-ah)!

Shedd welcomed the chick—the first Magellanic successfully bred at Shedd—on the day before Mother’s Day. Weighing less than 4 ounces at hatching, she was small enough to fit perfectly into a caregiver’s cupped hands. But on a nutritious slurry of fish regurgitated by her parents into her gaping beak, the chick gained weight rapidly, a healthy milestone in her early development.

Magellanic penguin chick Nia is held by a caregiver shortly after hatching.

While mom and dad handled the bulk of the care, Shedd’s penguin team members didn’t miss a beat in monitoring the new arrival. Daily weigh-ins were standard for the first month, and the care team also partnered with Shedd’s IT experts to set up wireless cameras in a behind-the-scenes area of the penguin habitat so that they could keep an eye on the chick’s development.

“To get a nice remote view, we had the camera positioned toward their nest,” says Christy Sterling, Shedd’s supervisor of penguins and otters. “It gave us really good information on feeding: how often she was eating and who was feeding her. That was really important.” In fact, staff members could rewind the footage and even find the exact moment the chick hatched!

Nia was kept in a private nesting area behind the scenes for the first three months to allow her first-time parents to devote themselves to her care without any distractions. Under their care, she continued to hit new milestones, including exploring her environment.

When the chick was about 1½ months old, penguin team members noticed that she was starting to move around independently. They took the top off the penguins’ nesting nook, which was designed to resemble the rocky nests wild Magellanic penguins make in the ground to protect their young. Opening the nest allowed the chick to better see her surroundings—rocks, twigs and sprigs of lavender that resembled materials Magellanics nest with in the wild— without leaving the nest before she was ready.

By Nia’s 2-month mark, she weighed 37 times her hatch weight of 95 grams! Already almost as big as the adult Magellanic penguins in Shedd’s Polar Play Zone, the little one racked up milestones just like she packed on the pounds.

One of the biggest changes was replacing her soft down with waterproof feathers, leaving her ready for her first swim. “She took her time, but once she got it, she was great,” says Christy. “It only took a couple days before we saw her diving.”

“To get a nice remote view, we had the camera positioned toward their nest. It gave us really good information on feeding: how often she was eating and who was feeding her. That was really important.”

Christy Sterling, marine mammals supervisor

Nia was also introduced to the lively colony in the penguin habitat on Shedd’s lower level, went on field trips around the aquarium and even made her debut in an aquatic presentation. Exposure to different areas of the aquarium continues to provide the chick with exercise, Christy explained, and helps her get more comfortable with Shedd’s diverse surroundings.

During this time, Shedd’s veterinarians collected a blood sample from the chick, which revealed her sex. While Nia is the first home-grown Magellanic, she isn’t the first of her species to hatch at Shedd: In 2009, a clutch of eggs from San Francisco Zoo’s Magellanic colony hatched not long after arriving at the aquarium.

Nia’s name was selected by online balloting in house. It is derived from Patagonia, a region at the southernmost tip of South America where Magellanics are found. Most of Shedd’s penguins are named after locations along coastal Argentina and Chile, and in the Falkland Islands, the native range of both the aquarium’s Magellanic and rockhopper penguins.

Magellanic penguin chick Nia receives attention from caregiver Christy Sterling.
Magellanic penguin chick Nia behind the scenes with her parents.

Magellanic penguins are a temperate-weather species; their climate range overlaps with rockhoppers, who like it a bit colder. At 60 degrees, the two species are comfortable together in Shedd’s Polar Play Zone, even though they favor different spaces. The rockhoppers spend a lot of time up high while the Magellanics stay near the water, which is where you might see the chick during your next visit.

At 5 months old, Nia is fully grown and living in Polar Play Zone. You can, however, still pick her out from the adult Magellanics by her lighter juvenile coloring. She is acclimating well to the colony and exploring the habitat. The chick has transitioned to feeding sessions with trainers, an important milestone that provides plenty of opportunities for close observation and care.

Caring for the new penguin chick has made for lasting memories for the penguin team. Christy, who chaperoned Nia’s first aquatic presentation, remembers trying to keep up with the new arrival’s speedy stroll. “We’ve been surprised by how fast she can go—we take her on little walks, and she’s quick!”

While the chick moves fast, she’s also maturing fast. Be sure to stop by for a visit and start making your own memories as Nia settles into Polar Play Zone!

—Emily Roney, marketing intern