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Endangered penguin hatches at Seattle zoo (photo)

Easter has delivered an early batch of eggs to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo–Humboldt penguin eggs, that is–and the first chick was discovered to have hatched on April 1, the zoo said in information released with this photograph. This Humboldt penguin hatched at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo on April 1. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo...

Easter has delivered an early batch of eggs to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo–Humboldt penguin eggs, that is–and the first chick was discovered to have hatched on April 1, the zoo said in information released with this photograph.


This Humboldt penguin hatched at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo on April 1.

Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

The eggs, six total in three nests, mark the first breeding and nesting season for the colony of 18 penguins since the zoo’s new penguin exhibit opened last May. (Blog: Penguins in Formal Attire Debut at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo)

“The first penguin chick represents the first offspring for mother Dora and father PJ, both three years old. The second egg in their nest shows pipping activity and is expected to hatch on Easter Sunday. The newly hatched chick weighs 2.1 oz,” the zoo said.

Humboldt penguin chicks hatch with grayish brown, downy feathers, which molt into completely gray feathers when they fledge. It will be early summer before any of the chicks emerge from the nesting burrows and venture outdoors into the public exhibit for visitors to enjoy, the zoo added.

“This hatching is significant for the penguin Species Survival Plan,” said Mark Myers, a Woodland Park Zoo curator who specializes in birds. “Humboldt penguins are an endangered species and here at the zoo these birds are important conservation ambassadors to teach visitors about the impacts humans have on penguins in their range countries.”

Species Survival Plans (SSPs) are cooperative breeding programs that work to ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos and aquariums.

Over the last few weeks, three pairs of Humboldt penguins have been sitting on two eggs each in the burrows specially constructed by Woodland Park Zoo for the birds in their new exhibit.

“At least two of the remaining four eggs are fertile. Staff plans to candle the eggs every two weeks to determine if they are fertile, alive and developing properly. The process of candling involves holding an egg to a high powered and focused light for just a few seconds. The incubation period is approximately 40 days,” the zoo said.

“We were very excited when pairs began laying and incubating eggs. It was an encouraging sign that the penguins are comfortable in their new home and have adjusted quite nicely,” said Myers. “The egg-laying also is a strong testament to the excellent care our keepers provide to the penguins on a daily basis.”

“We are cautiously optimistic that the chicks will thrive under the care of their parents,” noted Myers. As part of the animal care protocols for penguin chicks, staff will attempt to weigh the hatchlings daily for the first five days or so. “As long as the chicks are achieving acceptable weight gains, they will remain under the care of their parents. Our goal is to minimize staff intervention and allow the parents to raise their chicks and gain experience as parents.”

If necessary, keepers might offer supplemental feedings to chicks that fall behind the weight curve or if there is a large age difference between siblings.

Humboldt penguins, like all penguins, are monogamous. In zoos and in the wild, both penguin parents take turns incubating the eggs and sitting with the chick.

The population of penguins arrived at the zoo last spring through recommendations by the Humboldt penguin Species Survival Plan to ultimately form a breeding colony, the zoo said. “Not all of the penguins have recommendations to breed, but additional breeding penguins are scheduled to arrive in April and May to continue growing the colony.”

The Humboldt penguin SSP is among 39 SSPs that Woodland Park Zoo participates in, including the western lowland gorilla, ocelot, Komodo dragon and red panda. Under the auspices of AZA, SSPs also involve a variety of other collaborative conservation activities such as research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.

The zoo’s penguin exhibit is based on the desert coast of Punta San Juan–home of the largest colony of wild Humboldt penguins in Peru. The 17,000-square-foot exhibit features shoreline cliffs, viewable entrances to nesting burrows, rocky tide pools, crashing waves and a beach.

It is estimated that only 12,000 endangered Humboldt penguins survive in the wild, according to the zoo.

“Overfishing of anchovies–the penguin’s primary food source–and other human activities, such as the harvesting of guano deposits, which penguins rely on to build nests in, pose the greatest threats to their survival.

“Woodland Park Zoo is committed to conserving Humboldt penguins by supporting the Humboldt Penguin Conservation Center at Punta San Juan, breeding endangered penguins through the Species Survival Plan, and encouraging visitors to choose sustainable seafood options.”

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