An Eyewitness to Chilly’s Escape

November 23, 2015

Here’s a first hand account of the adventures and mis-adventures of the fugitive Chilly Willy from Mark Osler, a former Detroit resident who in 1990 was witness the Chilly’s escape and subsequent adventures.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. This is my favorite holiday– I love the idea of it, and the fact that it is a holiday geared more to reflection and humility than patriotism or commerce.

But, like many other good things, there is a dark side. Those of us from Detroit know to keep a lookout for a Thanksgiving menace that appears when least expected– Chilly Willy the Penguin.

In 1990, a frozen dessert company entered a 40-foot inflatable penguin in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade down Woodward Avenue. Given the variety of social ills (street violence, poverty, a rotting infrastructure) faced by Detroit back then, few in attendance thought that a greater threat might be posed by the giant gaseous penguin. They were wrong.

Midway through the parade, Chilly Willy made a break for it. I remember this– I was there. He broke free of his handlers and charged into the sky, taunting those below. Legend has it that several bystanders stopped shooting at one another and fired at the fleeing bird to no avail. The irony was overwhelming; After decades of tragedy, now the city was under threat by a giant flightless bird that had somehow taken to the air. Now he headed for the home of the singer-songwriter who defined irony for so many of us: the Great White North’s own Alannis (“Isn’t It Ironic?”) Morrisette.

So, like other Northern-border fugitives, Chilly Willy headed to Canada. Many watched as he headed down the Detroit River and across Lake St. Clair toward freedom in a nation famous for its generous proportions of ice and snow. He got as far as Walpole Island, just into Canada, before he was finally apprehended.

Chilly Willy’s reign of terror was not complete, though. In a Napolean-like comeback, some months later he was trusted with the duties of appearing at a car dealership for promotional purposes. Not missing an opportunity, he lashed out with violence. It was not random violence, however– his target was an official of the very parade from which Willy had escaped! CW threw his terrified victim from the roof of the dealership, breaking her arm and leg, and teaching a valuable lesson on the hazards of trying to tie down a restless spirit that cannot be contained.

They say that Chilly Willy has been safely deflated and stored in a secure facility. Believe that if you want… I’m watching my back.


The new Chilly Willy balloon in a recent parade.

Penguins Can Fly!

November 23, 2015

I love Chilly Willy and the Thanksgiving Day Parade and back in 1990, these two combined to make what for me is the best Thanksgiving Parade story ever. What many people don’t realize is the Detroit Thanksgiving Day parade is the 2nd oldest and 2nd largest in the nation.   Over the years there’s been plenty of parade balloon mishaps in NY and Detroit, but for me the one that tops them all is simply known in Detroit as the “1990 escapee”.  25 years ago on a windy Thanksgiving morning the 40 foot Chilly Willy balloon came loose and  broke free from his moorings, floating away to the delight of a cheering crowd that chanted “Fly Chilly Fly” as he drifted toward Canada and eventually out of sight.  The 40 foot tall, wayward  penguin was soon spotted by startled commercial aircraft pilots at an altitude of about 5000 feet, which must have been quite a sight.  Chilly was found the next afternoon by the Coast Guard in the water (where penguins like to go) near Walpole Island in Lake St. Clair, Canada some 25 miles from home!


Although he didn’t really look like the classic Chilly Willy here is Chilly right before he made a break for it in 1990.


The Great Almost Penguin Escape

November 14, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned about the video shared by the Odense Zoo in Denmark of an ill fated attempted penguin escape that was foiled by the flightless birds’ own wet footprints on the concrete.

The video posted to YouTube by the Odense Zoo features a zookeeper holding a camera while following the wet footprints from the penguin enclosure down a corridor meant for zoo staff.

The zookeeper soon catches up to the five penguins as they make a mad dash for freedom.

The zoo compared the antics of the birds to those of their animated counterparts in the “Madagascar” series of films. The slippery escape artists come to a dead end in the corridor and turn around to run back toward their enclosure.

Brazillian Man Makes A Penguin BFF

October 29, 2015

In March 2011, João Pereira de Souza​, a 71-year-old retired widower, found a Magellanic penguin from Patagonia washed up on a beach in Brazil near his home. The bird was covered in oil and fighting for his life.  The man cleaned the bird, fed him food and let him rest before bringing him back to the water—but the penguin wouldn’t leave his side.  After de Souza tried to release him back into the sea, the penguin swam back to land and made his way to de Souza’s home. And thus, a friendship was born.

Jingjing-PenguinThese days the penguin, now named JingJing, heads out to the sea for days, sometimes months, but JingJing always returns. ​”I never saw a critter get so attached. You can let him go wherever you want, but he’ll come back,” de Souza told The Wall Street Journal.​

The duo spends about eight months out of the year together, taking strolls on the beach and going for swims. Mostly, though, the bird just follows De Souza around. JingJing is now considered the “village mascot,” and locals say ​De Souza​ treats him “like a son.”

Fat Boy The Penguin Celebrates A Birthday

October 21, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that Fat Boy the African black-footed penguin turned 32 years old yesterday at Tampa’s Gulf World Marine Park, and yes, he’s the oldest penguin in the park. The celebration kicked off with a meet and greet with the birthday boy. Gulf World also auctioned off a piece of artwork drawn by Fat Boy himself by waddling over paint and then onto a canvas leaving some colorful penguin footprints.fat+boyAfrican black-footed penguins usually live into their mid-20’s in the wild. But Fat Boy’s trainers say he won’t stop waddling anytime soon! “Fat Boy has excellent care by our veterinarian Dr. Sags,” Gulf World’s Marketing Coordinator Sam Tuno said. “He is monitored very closely, and he also is given laser therapy weekly for his arthritis. So he lives a very great life. He doesn’t have predators, so he has been able to live much longer than the average penguin.”   FYI, Fat Boy is not named because of his weight, but after a former Gulf World owner whose favorite model of Harley is called Fat Boy.

African Penguin Awareness Day

October 21, 2015

This wonderful video is from SANCCOB’s Penguin Release near Cape Town, South Africa on African Penguin Awareness Day.  There are only 2% of these penguins still in the wild and their numbers have plummeted in the past decades.

New Thinking About Emperor Penguin Feathers

October 21, 2015

Emperor penguins eat, sleep and breed in one of the harshest environments in the world — icy Antarctica, in temperatures that can dip below -40 in the winter. It would be easy to assume that they have the thickest, densest feathers in the bird world.

But the Penguin Post has learned that a new study reveals that’s not the case — and that penguin coats are much more complex insulating structures than previously believed.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could lead to a better understanding of penguin physiology — and perhaps one day inspire makers of insulating materials.

Lead author Cassondra Williams, a comparative biologist at UC Irvine, said she first became interested in this question when she and her colleagues read in popular media and elsewhere that penguins had the highest feather density among birds — but they couldn’t find an original source for that statement.

“It just seemed like somebody said it, and it got repeated and repeated,” Williams said.

The numbers in the literature related to the penguins’ contour feathers — the stiff, shapely plumes that resemble those used in quill pens. The contour feathers encase the body and the insulating layers below, keeping the cold water out and maintaining the body’s sleek profile. Estimates on these feather densities were all over the place — some said there were 11 feathers per square centimeter; others said there were around 46.

But Williams and her coauthors had access to the bodies of penguins that had died on the ice, and they decided to put the mystery to rest, using three different birds. They soon found that counting penguin feathers was no easy task.

“Anytime we would try to even pull out a feather or separate the feathers with just our fingers, a lot of downy bits would come up,” she said, resulting in “a lot of tiny bits of downy feathers flying in the air.”

So the researchers snipped off the feathers — as if giving the birds a close haircut — and then counted the clipped feather shafts.

To their surprise, they found that while the feather density varied slightly from penguin to penguin, the contour feather density was around 9 per square centimeter — less than a fourth as many as described in many previous papers.

And the emperor penguin definitely did not have the highest density of contour feathers in the bird world, they added: The white-throated dipper’s feather density is more than six times higher.

But a big surprise lay beneath those contour feathers. Penguins, as it turns out, have several types of feathers, including after-feathers — little downy bits that are attached to the contour feathers — and plumules, downy feathers that are attached directly to the skin. The emperor penguins had about four times as many downy plumules as contour feathers, so the plumules probably play a major part in the penguins’ insulation.

Strangely, few papers had ever mentioned the presence of these plumules and the role they play, Williams said.

Nor did other scientists seem to notice even tinier feathers called filoplumes, which are hard to see without a microscope. These tiny feathers, which look like long stems with barbs at the very end, are used by flying birds to help sense when their plumage is disheveled, so they can groom it back into a more aerodynamic shape.

Though this idea hasn’t been tested, it’s possible that these penguins are using filoplumes to keep their contour feathers streamlined to minimize drag in the water.

The findings may cause scientists to modify their understanding of how penguin bodies work and how they move. For example, researchers have long thought that penguins store air in their insulating feather coats so that they can release tiny bubbles that allow them to further reduce drag as they swim. Williams said these delicate, downy plumules could produce even tinier bubbles than the contour feathers, improving that drag reduction even more.

Waddle In Peace Noodles

October 16, 2015

We are shocked and sad to report that Noodles, one of the Magellanic penguins living at Aquarium of the Pacific, died Wednesday unexpectedly. The Aquarium announced the penguins death Thursday in a statement, saying employees were shocked and saddened by the penguin’s death. Noodles’ body was discovered Wednesday morning in its burrow, although the penguin had not appeared to have been ill.

Noodles hatched in 2002 and came to the Aquarium in 2011. He was mated to another penguin named Patsy at the Aquarium and the pair’s chicks, named Paddles and Mattson, hatched in 2014.  Also, that same year, Noodles popularity at the aquarium soared with the publication of a popular children’s book about a penguin called Noodles & Albie.

AR-151019668Results of a necropsy performed to determine the cause of Noodles’ death may be known to Aquarium personnel in about one month. The loss of Noodles happened as Aquarium personnel are also preparing to euthanize another penguin, dubbed Elvis, who has been afflicted with a neurological ailment.

“Dealing with both of these losses during the same time period has saddened all of us. We will greatly miss Noodles and Elvis,” Aquarium vice president of animal husbandry Perry Hampton said in a statement.

World’s Largest Penguin Collection

October 12, 2015

In other Guinness Book Of World Record news.  The Penguin Post has learned that Birgit Berends had amassed a collection of 11,062 different penguin-related items as of March 14, 2011. From Germany, she started her collection at the age of 18 when she was inspired by the animated series Pingu. Her very first penguin dates back to her days in elementary school, and a few of the penguins in her collection comes from us at the Penguin Gift Shop. 2012-Guinness-World-Record-Holders-Named-005

Penguin Record On Penguin Island

October 12, 2015

The Penguin Post has learned that a call was recently made to the penguin loving citizens Rockingham in south western Australia to help break a Guinness World Record for the most people dressed as penguins in one place, and we’re happy to report the record was met as 506 people dressed in penguin costumes climbed aboard ferries and descended on Penguin Island on Saturday.

Participants ranged from young penguin lovers to seniors in their penguin costumes, as they caught ferries to Penguin Island which is located just offshore for the City of Rockingham’s first Guinness World Records attempt.

Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels said five councillors from the City attended in costume to support the event. “Thank you to the Youth Advisory Council for launching this idea,” he said. “It is great to support something fun for the community, something a little different and a little quirky.

26AC73F900000578-2995934-image-a-156_1426438444183It took seven ferry trips to transport all the penguin people over to the island.  To qualify for the attempt, all participants had to wear a full penguin costume including a head piece with a beak attached, black and white body suit and webbed feet, and we’re happy to say that provided more than a few of the costumes.

All participants had to be filmed arriving on the island and filmed while two independent witnesses counted each penguin. All photographic and written evidence will be provided to Guinness World Records and will take up to eight weeks to be ratified. The record is then uploaded on to their website.


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