Aquarium experts are preparing for the start of the 2016 nesting season on Penguins Rock. After a quick pool scrub and maintenance day on March 30 (during which each penguin will also get a semi-annual vet check-up and the exhibit will be closed), aviculturists will bring out the “magic rocks” that trigger the official start of nesting on the morning of April 1.
Even though experts have discredited the myth that male penguins “propose” to females with a single rock, both Gentoo and Macaroni penguins build rock nests and the process is an important part of courtship. Each spring, Aquarium aviculturists provide these nesting rocks and an immediate swarm of activity ensues over the next several days.
Nesting season is always a fun time to visit the Aquarium and observe some of the most peculiar penguin behaviors seen throughout the year. And, just like any other romance, sometimes there’s a little drama. “While certain penguin species have long-term mates, it’s not always the case,” said Tennessee Aquarium senior aviculturist Loribeth Lee. “For example, while Hercules has nested with Shamrock in the past, last year he raised a chick with Little Debbie.”
Nest building is serious business and penguin pairs work meticulously to get it just right – sometimes resorting to some sneaky antics. Here you can see Nipper stealing rocks from another unsuspecting couple’s nest, as his mate Flower looks on:
Of course, the most exciting part of nesting season is hoping for the pitter patter of baby penguin feet later this summer. Last year’s season brought a new Macaroni and three baby Gentoos – one of which was the Aquarium’s first penguin chick to be raised by foster parents.
Keepers go on watch as soon as nesting begins, looking for eggs and eventually chicks. While nothing is ever certain when it comes to penguins or their eggs, we will post any updates right here on our blog.
UPDATE: We had a GoPro camera in the exhibit for the first day of nesting season. Watch the whole day in under three minutes below: