This summer, All My Penguins, a web series chronicling the lives of the colony of endangered African penguins at Lincoln Park Zoo, is back with more drama, romance, and penguins (well…one more penguin) than ever! Stay tuned as we dive deep into the complex and covert dynamics of the cozy colony!
In the wild, African penguins nest in niches created by rocks or guano on the southwest coast of Africa. Lincoln Park Zoo’s Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove emulates Boulders Beach in South Africa, one of the last thriving nest sites for this endangered species.
The past year has flown by at Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove—no slight intended to our flightless friends in the flock. With the arrival of Oliver, the first-ever endangered African penguin chick hatched and fledged in the zoo’s new state-of-the-art African penguin exhibit, things got a bit rocky… but that’s how African penguins like it! With a new chick on the block, feathers were ruffled and the colony dynamics shifted. According to Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson, this is what Animal Care staff expected with a penguin pair expecting. Remember that handy ID chart from last year, outlining the personalities and roles of each penguin within the colony? With Oliver’s arrival, some of those roles and traits have changed, as the penguins try to find their niches within the group.
Previously on All My Penguins:
Maria and Liam—going steady.
Robben and Preston—nest building.
Aiden and Maynard—casually preening.
Sunny and TJ—nest building.
Madiba and Mandela—nest building in the nest box donated to Lincoln Park Zoo as a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) SAFE Invest in the Nest Kickstarter.
Aje, Dudley, Erik, Phil, and Pilchard—bachelors in penguin paradise!
That’s where we left it at the end of last season. For black-and-white birds, there sure is a lot of gray area when it comes to relationships and colony dynamics. Let’s catch up:
The Love Triangles
Madiba isn’t bossy; she’s the boss. She gets what she wants. What she wants, however, depends on the day. Sometimes it’s Dudley, the dream boat, who has mastered the smolder with his gorgeous chocolate brown eyes, and sometimes it’s Mandela, the showboat who only eats the biggest fishes keepers and the zoo’s nutrition team can find.
Hatched May 24, 2007, Aiden is a true Gemini—sweet at first, to gain the trust of keepers and colony mates, but quick to snap. According to keepers, she brought Oliver under her wing under nurturing and protective auspices, but soon chased him away after gaining the trust of Robben, his mom, and keepers alike. She’s the same way in relationships. Maynard and Pilchard have been waiting in the wings for her affection, but she keeps stringing both along! Things seem to be heating up between her and Pilchard though…
The median life expectancy for male African penguins within AZA-accredited institutions is 18.6 years old. This means that half of population of male African penguins will live longer than 18.6 years, and half will live less than 18.6 years.
If penguins could speak, Maynard’s motto would be, “Hey chicks! Get off my beach!” He’s a ornery penguin, who has a soft spot for Aiden. He’s the oldest bird in the colony, turning 14 this March. Maynard staked out a nest niche this winter and would chase away any penguin that waddled across his property. Maybe he and Aiden are a match made in heaven?
Pilchard sure hopes not. He hopes Aiden chooses youth. This strapping 4 year-old penguin is sweet for Aiden, but still eying older female (and new mom) Robben.
When you think penguins, you probably think snow, ice and cold, but African penguins are a temperate beach-dwelling species!
Sure, a baby can change everything, but parenthood has only strengthened the bond between Robben and Preston. The pair met as a part of the African Penguin Species Survival Plan® (SSP), a cooperative effort among zoos and aquariums within the AZA to manage the endangered African penguin population. When we left them last season, they were nesting—something all expecting parents do! At Lincoln Park Zoo, first comes science, then comes pairing, then comes incubation and a baby! With new chick Oliver, Preston, the laidback leader of the colony, has kept his cool, even for a temperate species. Robben, the helicopter parent, is protective enough for the both of them. She’s the most petite penguin in the colony, but is fierce when it comes to her chick. When keepers began introducing Oliver to the rest of the colony, small but mighty Robben fought off every single penguin to protect her chick. Don’t mess with this mama!
Keepers use colorful bands around the African penguin’s flippers for quick identification. You can identify the members of the cozy colony with our printer-friendly ID chart!
The Significant Others
The only penguin besides Preston that Robben trusts is her pal, Sunny. Maybe they have their own sisterhood of the traveling bands? Even in fierce mama mode, Robben will never lay a beak on Sunny. When Oliver was adjusting to the outside exhibit space, he wandered off from his parents and keepers found Sunny protecting him in her next-door nest niche—a friendly neighbor gesture!
Sunny and TJ, Preston’s right-hand who maintained order when Preston was busy with a baby on the way, are a modern-day penguin Romeo and Juliet. However, Sunny and Maynard (who has eyes for Aiden), received a breeding recommendation from the African Penguin SSP, which aims to ensure genetic diversity within the AZA African penguin population. Last year, keepers encouraged Sunny and Maynard to pair in a private, behind-the-scenes space, but as soon as she could, Sunny waddled back to TJ. Sunny and Maynard have a second date planned for this spring. Stay tuned to see if the pair will finally hit it off. After all, they share similar interests: eating fish, swimming—you know, penguin things!
Finally, there’s Maria and Liam, who can’t be bothered by any drama in the colony. They prefer to stay in and nest-build and chill, but they’re on the hunt for a new nest niche!
With five females to 11 males, there are not plenty of fish in the sea for some of the male birds in the colony. It’s a bachelor life for some, like best buds Phil and Aje, the dynamic duo often eager to waddle in to a Malott Family Penguin Encounter. Erik was the odd bird out for a while, turning to his keepers for attention and the occasional preen. Now, with Oliver on the scene, keepers are hoping he takes on a big brother role, mentoring the new chick as he grows independent—or fledges—from his nest.
And Oliver? This chick is checking off all of his developmental milestones!
Tune in for All My Penguins Season 2 Episode 2: All About Oliver next time for more!