Visitors to the penguin enclose at Belfast Zoo this week can expect to find nine recently hatched penguin chicks.
The Zoo has been actively involved in a breeding programme for the species since 1984, with the new arrivals joining a collection of 37 gentoo and two rockhopper penguins.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said “The penguin breeding season starts way back in February. At this point in the year, keepers are responsible for installing nest rings on the pebble beach area of the enclosure. The birds then fill these nest rings with pebbles, moss, leaves and stones. In fact, these pebbles are an important part of the penguin courtship ritual as males often obtain a mate by offering the female the most impressive ‘rock’ he can find.
“Female penguins then lay up to two eggs in the nest and both parents play an active role in incubating the eggs for 30 to 40 days. The first eggs started to hatch at the end of May and we now have a total of nine penguin chicks. When they first hatch the chicks are covered in fluffy feathers. However, these birds grow extremely quickly and go through a molting stage before getting their adult plumage.”
All penguins are found in the Southern hemisphere, with a total of 17 species of penguin in the world. The gentoo is the third largest member of the penguin family, after the emperor and king penguin and is the fastest underwater swimming bird, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. While these birds can’t breathe underwater, they can hold their breath for long periods of time and can spend as much as 75% of their time in water.
During a visit to Belfast Zoo, visitors can watch the penguin colony on their pebble beach, admire their skills at the underwater viewing area, or learn more about penguins during keeper talks at the daily 2.15pm feed.
Keepers have made sure the penguins keep cool during this hot weather by shading nests with umbrellas and turning water sprinklers on for those not in the pool. The penguins have even been treated to some home-made ice lollies filled with their favourite fishy treats!
For more information on visiting Belfast Zoo go to www.belfastzoo.co.uk