BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore welcomed its first penguin chicks of the breeding season.
Three African penguin chicks hatch on Sept. 18 and Sept. 22 and Oct. 4.
“It’s amazing to me that we are in our 53rd year working with African penguins. We are always excited to watch the colony grow each year, and happy to announce that three chicks have hatched already this breeding season,” said Jen Kottyan, avian collection and conservation manager. “We expect to hatch 10 chicks during this breeding season, but of course that is all dependent on the penguins.”
The zoo follows penguin breeding recommendations made by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP).
Breeding season for the African penguins at Penguin Coast began in mid-August this year and will last through the end of February.
“Right now it is spring in South Africa, when these penguins would normally begin breeding in their colonies,” continued Kottyan. “Although it is fall here, we like to mimic the breeding season so we can monitor the chicks as they hatch and grow during our winter, and then they make their debut as juveniles when temperatures warm up in April.”
Penguin chicks hatch 38 to 42 days after the eggs are laid.
The team at Penguin Coast monitors the development of the eggs via candling to see if they are fertile and if the chicks are growing. The eggs are then placed back with the parents.
“With African penguins, both the male and the female take turns incubating the eggs,” said Kottyan. “Once the eggs hatch, parents take turns caring for their offspring; they each protect, feed, and keep the chick warm for 2-3 days and then switch off.”
After they hatch, the chicks stay with their parents for three weeks and are fed regurgitated fish from their parents, with veterinarians keeping a close eye on their development.
When the chicks are three weeks old, the team removed them from the nest to teach the chicks that the team is their source for food. It’s a critical step to allow staff to provide long term care.
Chicks are the size of a human palm when they first hatch. They are covered in dark gray downy feathers. They will reach their full size, about six pounds around the age of three months. That’s when their fluffy feathers are replaced by waterproof feathers.
The chicks are not viewable to the public, but other juvenile penguins and the adults can be seen at Penguin Coast.
The Maryland Zoo has the largest colony of African penguins in North America with 104 birds, including the newest hatchlings.