Full of surprises. That’s how Tennessee Aquarium senior aviculturist Loribeth Lee describes the first baby penguin of 2015. “This chick started hatching four days before we were expecting it,” said Lee. “But at the first weigh-in, three days later, it was clear that the parents were doing a great job feeding this little bird.”
The newest Macaroni Penguin in Chattanooga has been growing by leaps and bounds since entering the world on June 5th. In addition to its early appearance, this is Little Debbie’s first baby. So initially Lee and the Aquarium’s other penguin keepers were a bit nervous. Sometimes first-time penguin moms lack the nurturing skills to feed and tend to their first offspring. “Little Debbie surprised us with her parental instincts,” said Lee. “She acts as though she has raised a lot of chicks in the past. She and Hercules are doing a great job caring for this baby.”
This pudgy little penguin is a pretty laid-back bird. Lee says it seems like a very calm creature even while spending time out in the open. But because it is now beginning to do a little exploring, an acrylic playpen has been erected around Little Debbie and Hercules’ nest. “It takes about 70 to 75 days for baby Macaroni Penguins to grow their adult feathers,” said Lee. “Until then, we need to make sure they don’t accidently end up in the water.”
The clear barrier, located on the far left-hand side of the exhibit, allows Aquarium guests to observe the chick’s behaviors and also see how the parents feed the chick. Nosey neighbors also can see the “new kid in town” while not disturbing the family. “There’s always a lot of curiosity in the colony when a new chick starts vocalizing,” said Lee. “Among the most curious birds this year are Beaker, Clare and Cheddar, our one-year-old penguins. They seem to enjoy looking in on the new chick.”
Soon aviculturists and penguin volunteers will begin spending some play time with the baby Macaroni behind the scenes. “By letting the chick waddle around and explore a bit, they learn not to be afraid of us and the backup space,” said Lee. “This really helps us later when we need to handle the birds for semi-annual physicals and other times when we need to closely examine them.”
The next round of exams for all of the birds is scheduled for late November. A DNA test will be run on this baby penguin to determine the gender at that time with a naming contest to follow.
There are more eggs in the exhibit so visitors will continue to have fun the rest of the summer watching the nesting behaviors of the other Gentoos and Macaronis.