A four month old King penguin chick will enter its habitat in the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium for the first time tomorrow.
The chick, whose sex is currently unknown, is extremely valuable to the North American King penguin population as it is the first offspring for two wild hatched birds. Due to its genetic importance, the decision was made to raise the chick by hand. The egg was artificially incubated for 54 days and hatched on February 15. The Zoo’s Aquarium bird department raised the chick in an off exhibit rearing room. Keepers made a blended slurry of fish, krill and vitamins to replicate a regurgitated diet that a parent reared bird would receive. The chick now eats whole fish.
The chick is now ready to be introduced to the other birds while it continues to lose its down and gain its juvenile plumage. Because down feathers are not waterproof, the chick will remain in a “chick pen” for approximately one month. The chick currently weighs close to 30 pounds; adult King penguins typically weigh between 30 and 35 pounds.
The King penguin breeding season begins in October. In the habitat at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, computerized lighting changes cue the change in seasons. The exhibit is on a southern light cycle to mimic a penguin’s natural habitat, which means in Omaha’s winter months the lighting is brighter.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium currently has a population of 21 King penguins, 12 male, eight female and the chick. As of May 2018, the North American population of King penguins was 283 individuals in 15 institutions. This species is managed as a Green Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
King penguins are currently listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, however, this species is still negatively affected by fisheries, and climate change altering their breeding habits.