Maximum cuteness: Omaha zoo introduces 5 baby penguins - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:00 am / Updated at 9:10 am
Maximum cuteness: Omaha zoo introduces 5 baby penguins

Photos: More images of the penguins' appearance

***

Last year it was five lion cubs. This year it's five rockhopper penguins.

They cheep like baby chickens. They're fluffy like baby ducks. But they already have the black-and-white tuxedo markings of their parents.

The rockhopper chicks are at the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, where they were introduced Tuesday morning.

Ordinarily only zookeepers in the Scott Aquarium would get to see the chicks this young. But zoo officials wanted the public to have a chance to see what these tiny penguins look like. So in an unusual move, they let media representatives take photos and video of the tiny penguins, said Dan Cassidy, the zoo's general curator.


Trouble seeing the video? Watch it here.


Zoo visitors won't be able to see them live because they are being hand-raised in a temperature-controlled environment.

“We chose to incubate the eggs artificially this year as we felt it would give them a better chance of survival as we had some broken eggs last year,” Cassidy said.

They will be introduced to the general penguin population in about six weeks, when they will have their sleek, water-­shedding adult feathers and be close to adult size.

Right now, the penguin chicks each weigh about three-­quarters of a pound. Rockhoppers are one of the smallest penguin species with adult weights of 5.5 to 6.5 pounds.

The chicks, which hatched between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26, are fed a milkshake of krill and fish blended with vitamins and minerals. They also get small fish fillets and will progress to eating whole fish.

Chicks need to eat 10 percent of their body weight at each of five daily feedings. Keepers have to be able to tell them apart to make sure they are all eating, Cassidy said, so each chick has a different color of non-toxic paint on one foot. When they are old enough, they will have wing bands.

The chicks will be scale-trained like the rest of the penguins in the zoo's exhibit; they step on the scale by themselves and don't have to be picked up. The scale has a glass bottom so the keepers can see the condition of the bottoms of their feet.

The sex of the five chicks can't be determined until they are about a year old. Then their DNA can be determined by testing a feather.

Omaha's zoo currently has 80 penguins in the exhibit — 23 of them rockhoppers.

“The exhibit is probably not as full as we would like it,” Cassidy said. “Some birds do better in big groups like penguins and flamingos.”

These five chicks will go to other zoos when they are old enough in order to keep the genetic mix healthy, he said.

Adult rockhoppers have crests of black and yellow feathers on their heads and bright red eyes.

For now, zoo visitors can see the chicks on a video monitor above the penguin exhibit. Updates will be posted on Omahazoo.com and on the zoo's Facebook page.

Contact the writer: Carol Bicak

carol.bicak@owh.com    |   402-444-1067

Carol writes about community news, local profiles, the arts and books. She also covers the zoo.

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