A Humboldt Penguin chick that hatched on February 12 at Brookfield Zoo is thriving, and in the near future, may be taking on an important role. As early as this May, and depending on whether he chooses to participate, the unnamed chick will be an animal ambassador for the zoo’s Penguin Encounters.
Currently being hand-reared by animal care staff, the chick is being carefully monitored. He is weighed three times a day—once each morning to determine how much weight was gained over a 24-hour period, as well as after each feeding to calculate how much of its diet of herring and marine smelt he consumed.
The chick will molt from his down feathers into juvenile plumage by two months of age, at which time he will be introduced to a shallow pool of water. Adult plumage will not be present until the chick is about two years old. In addition to possibly being an integral member of the Penguin Encounters, the chick will be introduced to and reside in the Humboldt Penguin colony in the rocky shores habitat at Brookfield Zoo’s Living Coast.
Each Penguin Encounter begins with a member of the animal care staff sharing fun facts about the zoo’s resident Humboldt penguins and communicating how to safely interact with the penguin during the session. During the program, penguins are free to roam and waddle up to anyone they choose – and while one animal may be camera-shy, another individual may enjoy a good selfie or two. The animals appear to find the encounters as enriching as guests and each penguin ambassador chooses whether to participate in the encounters. Staff also talk about the conservation work the Chicago Zoological Society is doing in Punta San Juan, Peru, to help preserve the habitat and abundant wildlife, including Humboldt Penguins that live along the South American coastline.
Humboldt Penguins are native to the Pacific coastlines of Peru and Chile. The population has fallen due to climate change, guano mining, and competition for food with commercial fisheries. The birds are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.