All My Penguins Season 2 Episode 2: All About Oliver

June 26, 2018

African penguin chick in exhibit, plus zoo branding for "All My Penguins"

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!

African penguin chicks are born with gray downy plumage and molt into grayish blue waterproof plumage after about 70 to 80 days. Oliver will molt into his iconic tuxedo-like plumage in about one year. If you’re looking for him on exhibit, he’s the sleek blueish band-less bird!

A chick changes everything. Especially when it’s the first chick ever hatched and fledged at Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. Before we talk about how the colony and parents Robben and Preston are acclimating to Oliver, let’s talk the birds and the bees. Well, in this case, the birds and the SSPs (Species Survival Plans®). After all, the African Penguin SSP is responsible for all that fluff. And yes, even our scientists and Animal Care experts sometimes refer to penguin chick’s gray downy plumage “fluff,” because, how could they not?

Did you know that the AZA Population Management Center (PMC) at Lincoln Park Zoo conducts population biology behind SSPs within the AZA?

The African Penguin SSP is like Match.com for the 948 (as of 2017) African penguins within the 230 member-strong Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA is an accrediting body dedicated to advancing conservation, animal care and welfare, education, science and the guest experience within zoos and aquariums. All AZA institutions work together on more than 500 SSPs, many of which are for threatened or endangered species–like the African penguin–in the wild. Have your friends ever used the knowledge they have about you to set you up with someone they know? That’s kind of what AZA scientists do during African Penguin SSP planning meetings, which occur every three years. They assess each African penguin’s genetics and demographics to determine which penguin should pair with which in order to maintain the greatest genetic diversity within the African penguin population. They also determine which penguins should transfer to other AZA-accredited institutions. Penguin matchmaker. The dream job you didn’t know existed. These matchmakers paired Robben and Preston at Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. The result? SO. MUCH. FLUFF.

The AZA deemed the African Penguin a SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) species due to its endangered status in the wild.

After a 38-day incubation period, Oliver hatched February 10. Keepers were constantly monitoring parents Robben and Preston to ensure that they were meeting Oliver’s needs as he reached developmental milestones. Robben and Preston read all the penguin parenting books, figuratively speaking, and were prepared to protect and provide for Oliver! Like any good parenting team, they shared brooding—keeping Oliver warm underneath them—and feeding—regurgitation—responsibilities.

Unlike humans, Oliver’s gender reveal didn’t involve ultrasounds and occurred long after he hatched.  After the zoo’s veterinary team sent a blood sample to a lab for genetic analysis, it was determined that Oliver was a male in mid-April. You can thank Lincoln Park Zoo Trustee Mayari Pritzker for the adorable name Oliver!

So What’s the Youngster Up to Now?

Though you may be able to spot Oliver taking laps in the pool in the early morning on his own, truth be told he’s not so interested in leaving the nest. African penguin chicks typically fledge, or grow independent of their parents, 70 to 80 days after hatching. Oliver reached the 80-day mark on May 1, but now, near the end of June, he’s still relying on Robben and Preston for delicious, nutritious and sustainable, but still regurgitated, fish.

Stay tuned to All My Penguins this season to learn more about this study and find out which birds fell where on the spectrum!

Keepers relay that Oliver is interested in taking fish into his beak, but then doesn’t eat them. Keepers, veterinary staff, and Lincoln Park Zoo’s fulltime nutrition manager are keeping a close eye on the late bloomer’s appetite to ensure that he’ll eventually fend for himself and eat on his own. Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson chocks this up to personality. Unlike Oliver Twist, Oliver never asks for “some more.” He’s proving to be a more reserved bird like his mother Robben, who fell on the shy end of the spectrum in a temperament study involving novel items in the exhibit, conducted last year by Senior Animal Welfare Scientist Katie Cronin. This hasn’t affected his weight or health whatsoever. During his last vet exam, Oliver weight 3.4 kilograms. For reference, Robben, his mom, weighs around 3 kilograms and Preston, his dad, about 4.

As far as fish are concerned, no penguin in the colony is without preferences. Tune in to All My Penguins Season 2 Episode 3: Gone Fishing to see if Oliver finally takes a bite and to learn more about what’s on the menu at Robert and Mayari Pritkzer Penguin Cove.