The first year of a baby's life is so exciting -- the first steps, the first swim, the first time baby swallows a fish whole. This was no exception for the National Aviary's two African penguin chicks. Tribby, who hatched on Feb. 26, 2012, and Kaden, a leap-year chick who hatched on Feb. 29, will celebrate their first "hatchdays" this month! They were the first African penguins to hatch at the National Aviary.
African penguin parents take turns caring for baby in the wild and in captivity. Covered in fluffy, gray-brown, downy feathers, baby African penguins grow quickly. At 4 weeks old, chicks are big enough to leave the nest but cannot swim and hunt on their own. Moms and dads hunt together, leaving the chicks in groups called creches for protection.
The chicks remain in the colony until they are 2 to 4 months old. At this age, the fluffy down feathers fall out in favor of a sleek gray and white coloration. Once this happens, the chicks are considered juveniles and leave the colony. Over the next two years, they travel up to 1,000 miles, relying solely on their instincts.
At about 18 months, the penguin's feathers change color one last time to the familiar black and white "tuxedo" look. These penguins are now considered adults. Most of their day is spent in the water hunting, only returning to land to sleep, molt and breed.
With less than 40,000 birds left in the wild, African penguins are an endangered species. The National Aviary's African penguins are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums Species Survival Plan, designed to keep African penguin numbers up in zoos around the world should the need arise to send birds back into the wild.
Tribby and Kaden experienced a unique first year. When the chicks were 3 weeks old, they didn't join a creshe; instead, the National Aviary's staff took them behind the scenes to be hand-raised. Here, the penguins received a high level of care and soon learned to recognize staff as funny-looking penguins in their colony.
Over the next two months, Tribby and Kaden were hand-fed fish three times a day, received vaccines and even had swimming lessons. While still covered in down, the chicks made their first public appearance, and before long, the rookies were doing daily public programs, paintings and classes just like our 14 veterans. The final milestone was reintroducing them to the colony. With one trainer in the exhibit pool to keep a watchful eye, Tribby and Kaden were placed in the water. For most of the first few days, both stayed in the water. Slowly they grew braver, until finally Kaden hopped out of the water to check out the colony. Tribby joined him a few days later.
Tribby and Kaden are turning 1, and they want you to join in on the fun. The penguins' hatchday party will be Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the National Aviary. Cake, ice cream (while supplies last) and a penguin parade are included with admission on both days. For more information, visit www.aviary.org.