In August last year our Little Penguins paired off and prepared their burrows. The females usually lay two eggs just a couple of days apart. Both the parents incubate the eggs, which are about the size laid by chickens, and when they hatch about a month later, they work together to care for and feed the young.
The chicks grow very quickly. As adults they weigh about a kilo and to give you an idea of how quickly they grow, one of our chicks at just two and a half weeks old weighed-in at 400 grams!
We closely monitor the chicks in the burrows, but take a very hands-off approach. Between seven and nine weeks of age the chicks in the wild leave their nest and become independent of their parents, heading to the ocean to mature. Things are a little different for our colony as we hand-feed the adults which allows us to closely monitor each of them on a daily basis. This means that we have to ‘teach’ the chicks how to feed from us.
Click on the above photo to see the album.
The chicks move in to penguin crèche at about five weeks of age, and this is where they learn how to take fish from us Keepers. Eventually they’ll know that when we ring a bell, that’s the signal that it’s breakfast or lunchtime, and to come over and get a fish or two. Just looking at the penguins in the exhibit you won’t be able to tell which ones where born this year, as by this stage they’ve lost their fluffy appearance and are just like the adults.
Now that breeding season is coming to an end the adults are beginning to moult. Other birds moult more gradually, but as penguins aren’t waterproof when they shed their feathers, they replace all of them in a short period of time. Their moult lasts for about three weeks where they replace their old, tired feathers with new ones. In the wild the penguins would be out of the water for a few weeks, which means that they can’t fish and have to rely on their fat reserves. As they have to remain on land during this time the penguins are more vulnerable to being attacked, so it’s really important to keep your dog on a lead and not let it stray in to penguin habitat.
Next time you’re at the Zoo come down and see our colony at the Great Southern Ocean exhibit. The best time is during the Penguin Talk at 2.40pm at the massive underwater penguin viewing window where you can watch them ‘fly’ through the water and hear about what you can do to help protect these amazing marine birds.