The famous penguin enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo is a hive of activity at the moment as mating season for the Gentoo penguin has begun. There are three different species of penguin on display at the zoo. Penguin keeper Lesley Garland definitely has her hands full with her feathered friends.
Lesley said: “We’ve got three species of penguins here the tallest and the most colourful ones are our King penguins, they’ve got the lovely orange patches on either side of their heads. The main nesting site is the Gentoo penguins they have a little white band that runs across the top of their heads from eye to eye and the smallest penguins we have are our Rockhoppers and they have the lovely yellow crest on the top of their head.”
The popular penguin parade features all three penguin species and is enjoyed by visitors of all ages. It’s the first zoo in the world to exhibit the king penguins, which is why the king penguin is on the zoo logo, and they are always very popular with the public particularly when they come out on parade. Funnily enough, the parade was actually started by mistake in 1951 when the penguins went for a walk then returned to their enclosure after a gate was left open.
The Gentoo breeding season is the busiest time for the penguin keepers and it is definitely their favourite time of year when they get the chance to see the penguins busy working to welcome their new chicks. Now the public can see the special event too as the zoo have installed a webcam into the nesting area which captures all the goings on.
Lesley said: “The Gentoo have just started their nest building they would build nests in the wild as well but here at Edinburgh zoo we give them concrete nests ring and then we will put piles of pebbles within the enclosure and they will collect the pebbles and fill up the nest rings themselves and its all part of their courtship display.
“Not only does it help keep the eggs and the chicks up off the ground and keep the nest nice and secure its part of the courtship, the males will select pebbles and offer them too the females and the females. If they like the pebbles will take them off the males and tuck them into the nest,” she added.
The pebbles are an important part of the mating ritual and the best pebbles are highly sought after. The penguins like smooth, round pebbles or flat pebbles, no jagged edges that could damage the eggs. The Hour logo was painted on to one of the pebbles and they will keep track of the pebble as it moves nests through out the breeding season.
Lesley said: “There is a lot of rivalry that goes on there’s a lot of rivalry over the nest sites initially and them over the pebbles… they are quite happy to steal pebbles from other nests if they like the look of a particular pebble particularly if the owners attention is distracted else where, they will just come straight in and whip any pebble out that they fancy.”
The zoo already has 95 eggs and is hoping to see the same successful breeding season as they did last year, where they had over 100. The chicks are due in May and the zoo is keen to share this exciting event via the webcam.
Keep up with the penguin antics on the Edinburgh Zoo webcam.