There are few things more likely to coax a smile from a Tennessee Aquarium employee than the hatching of a penguin chick. Except, of course, when two chicks waddle onto the scene at the same time.
Looking like nothing so much as adorably pudgy, grey-and-white balls of feathery fluff, the Aquarium recently welcomed a pair of chicks — one Gentoo Penguin, one Macaroni Penguin — into the colony at Penguins’ Rock. The chicks finished their hours-long pipping effort (the process of breaking through their eggs) on June 9.
The first four weeks of life are fraught with obstacles to a chick’s survival. During this important period in their development, the birds have been continually observed on-exhibit and carefully removed by a team of animal care specialists for tri-weekly checkups by Aquarium staff veterinarian, Dr. Chris Keller.
The birds were weighed for the first time within 36 hours of hatching and were found to be robust, with above-average weights. Specialists have continued to monitor their development and behavior, and the chicks have been growing at a healthy rate, says Senior Aviculturist Loribeth Lee.
“They are right within the weight range they should be and are doing well,” Lee says. “Growth will slow down, obviously, but their gains have been impressive.”
For now, the chicks will remain nameless. Their names will be officially selected later this year via a popular-vote contest on the Aquarium’s Facebook page.
The chicks’ genders will remain similarly undetermined until results are returned from tests administered during the penguins’ next semi-annual physical. A drop of the chicks’ blood will be sent to a lab, and a DNA report will be available a few days later.
Since the opening of Penguins’ Rock in 2007, 22 chicks — five Macaronis and 17 Gentoos — have hatched and been raised at the Aquarium. These newest arrivals are the offspring of parents with plenty of experience raising healthy chicks. The Macaroni chick is the fourth for its mother, Chaos, and the second for its father, Merlin. The Gentoo is the sixth for veteran parents Bug and Big T, who also raised Big Foot, the colony’s youngest bird prior to the arrival of the newest chicks.
For now, Lee says, the hatchlings are proving “strong and vocal” and will soon begin to exhibit distinct personalities. During the early weeks of their life, they will eat continuously, reaching their full size in less than a year. Within about 75 days, they will have fledged, growing a coat of waterproof feathers that allow them to leave the nest, swim and fend for themselves.
Even after raising almost two dozen chicks, the arrival of newcomers to Penguins’ Rock is always cause for excitement, says Senior Animal Care Specialist Holly Gibson.
“Having chicks this year is exciting,” she says. “It was nice to have an off-year last year, but everybody loves penguin babies.”Penguin fans can check in on the Gentoo Penguin chick and its parents via the Aquarium’s Penguins’ Rock webcam, viewable online at tnaqua.org/animals-exhibits/penguins-rock-cam/