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Macaroni Penguin Chick hatches

7/7/2009 6:02:27 PM

Penguin chick hatches

Chattanooga, Tenn. (June 18, 2009) – Tennessee Aquarium penguin keeper Amy Graves had a bit of a surprise today. Right after delivering the first penguin program of the day, she saw something exciting. “I went over to give Paulie a fish and when he stood up ever so slightly, I saw a piece of chipped shell in the nest,” Graves said. “When he stood up more, there was a quarter-sized hole in the shell and a tiny beak sticking out.”

The “pipping” process begins when the chick breaks through an air cell inside the shell. “The chick is still fully within the egg, but that’s when it gets its first breath of air,” explains Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. “That starts its lungs working and the blood circulating and it becomes an air-breathing bird for the first time in its life.”

Then the chick starts to break through the shell along the edge of the air cell. This is often a barely noticeable crack. Once the beak breaks through the shell, the chick gets a really good breath of outside air. “Then the chick turns in the egg and begins “unzipping” the egg. This involves pecking along the edge of the air cell and popping the end of the egg off,” Collins said

Graves has yet to get a good look at the newborn macaroni penguin, but she has heard it. “I heard a very soft, yet strong, ‘peep, peep, peep’. This was good news to my ears because when you hear the chick vocalizing, then you know that the chick is alive,” Graves said. “You don’t always see the baby penguin in the beginning, so hearing it vocalize is important.”

The baby penguin will likely stay sheltered from view underneath the parents for up to three days. “It is going to require full brooding which means the parents are going to have to stay on the baby and not let any cold air get onto it,” Collins said.

Penguin keepers plan to let Paulie and Chaos raise the chick on their own as long as they continue to be diligent parents. “If they are feeding the baby, it stays well-hydrated and no other birds start picking on it, we’ll leave it on exhibit with the parents,” Graves said.

Aquarium staffers have prepared a backup plan in case those conditions are not met. They are prepared to mix and feed the baby “penguin milkshakes,” a nutritionally balanced baby penguin formula. They also have a brooder on standby. “This is a comfortable shelter that will keep the baby warm as if it were under the parents,” Graves said.

Now that the chick has hatched, there are still a number of challenges ahead including the baby’s overall health and chick’s curiosity down the road. “It is still too early to tell how strong this chick is. And later on we wouldn’t want that youngster wandering out of the nest too soon,” said Collins. “So we will remain vigilant and hope the parents remain as dutiful as they have been so far.”  

Penguin keepers at the Tennessee Aquarium are still watching two pairs of gentoo penguins with eggs. ‘Bug’ and ‘Big T’ have two eggs. ‘Biscuit’ and ‘Blue’ also have an egg in their nest. It is still unknown whether any of these eggs are viable or not.

Watch the penguins on the Tennessee Aquarium’s live webcam.

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