To Hatch or Not To Hatch?

The Penguin Post has learned that a South American Humboldt Penguin chick failed to hatch as expected last week at the Brookfield Zoo. Milwaukee Zoo officials sent the egg to Brookfield as part of an effort to preserve the endangered species. But an egg sent from the Columbus Zoo hatched Feb. 20 and is a thriving young Humboldt Penguin.

The Milwaukee Zoo egg was the second of two laid by one of its Humboldt Penguins. These penguins, which are found only in South America, rarely are successful in raising two chicks at the same time, said Tim Snyder, curator of birds at the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo. The Milwaukee Zoo decided to send its second egg to Brookfield, keeping the first egg in Milwaukee’s collection. Its curators hoped a pair of foster parent penguins would successfully incubate the egg and raise the chick once it hatched. Snyder hoped for the best but knew there was a chance the chick would not survive. “Humboldt Penguins will occasionally lay two eggs,” said Snyder. But the second egg tends to be smaller and the chick “isn’t always as strong as the first egg.” The chick died without hatching.

Humboldt Penguin chick (right) shows off his gray juvenile plumage as he steps out of his nest.

Humboldt Penguin chick (right) shows off his gray juvenile plumage as he steps out of his nest.


On a brighter note, the penguin that hatched from the Columbus Zoo egg is a topic of joy for Snyder. “He’s growing like crazy,” said Snyder. The chick is almost as tall as his foster parents, Ceviche and Salsa, but still has his gray “juvenile plumage.” He’ll shed his gray feathers and begin to grow into his adult coat in a year. At Brookfield, the Humboldt Penguins live in cave-like habitats near a pool of water, where the penguins enjoy swimming. Ceviche and Salsa take turns staying inside their cave with the chick, while the other hangs out by the pool or goes for a swim. Although the chick has grown quite a bit, his parents are still protective. 

“He peeks his head out every once in a while right now,” Snyder said. Whenever he does this, his parents will push him back in as they would in the wild to keep him safe from animals such as large gulls. The chick will be able to play with the other Humboldt Penguins outside his nesting cave in about a month, Snyder said. Humboldt penguins begin to venture out on their own around 60 to 70 days after birth. 

Humboldt Penguins are found off the coast of Peru and Chile. There are two colonies at Brookfield Zoo, with several birds in each colony. The birds at Brookfield are “ambassadors” for the endangered population in Punta San Juan, Peru. The Chicago Zoological Society supports a conservation program there by raising money and awareness through the Brookfield Zoo colony  “It’s great if they are giving the penguins a safe place to grow and thrive and they can increase the population. I think that’s wonderful,” said Amanda Bekas, 34, a visitor from Rockport, Ill.

Overfishing has taken away much of the Humboldt Penguins’ food and it’s one of the factors endangering their population. Their nesting sites have also been taken from them. Humboldt penguins burrow into “guano,” or build up of bird droppings, to nest. But the guano has been harvested over the years to use as fertilizer, Snyder said.

Brookfield Zoo supports educational programs in South America to get people “excited about saving the penguins,” Snyder said.  “It’s important that places like this try to preserve their habitat and help,” said John Cortilet, a visitor from Frankfort, Ill. “We’d hate to lose the penguins. Right, Amanda?” PENGUIN_04

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