The flock is fickle at Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. Friends quickly become foes, romantic flames just friends. This makes sense with a male to female ratio of 11:5 in the cozy colony. As Keeper Brianna Larson puts it, “When it comes to mates, the females in the colony can afford to be choosy.”
Scientists at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Population Management Center make breeding and transfer recommendations for every African penguin within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Throw arranged pairs as a part of the African Penguin Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and a new chick into the mix (Oliver, hatched February 10, 2018) and you have drama beyond a reality TV producer’s wildest dreams.
At the beginning of season two of All My Penguins, some penguins were waiting in the wings in complicated love triangles, while two others were trying to get their bearings as new parents. Bromances and fish fights also ensued.
The Love Triangles
At the beginning of summer, Madiba was waffling between potential mates Dudley and Mandela. Though she and Mandela have a history, formerly cohabitating in a nest box donated to Lincoln Park Zoo as a part of the AZA Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Invest in the Nest Kickstarter, Madiba chose Dudley. For a deep diving bird, this appeared to be a shallow choice. Keepers speculate that Madiba chose Dudley because Mandela was going through a rough patch: a molt. Molting—out with the old feathers and in with the new plumage—is a social catastrophe for penguins, akin to developing acne just before prom. Molting starts with a “puffing” phase, during which penguins are on a “see food” diet: if they see seafood, they’ll eat it in order to build up reserves for when their feathers start to fall. During molting time, African penguins can’t swim because their torpedo-shaped bodies aren’t waterproof. They don’t eat or socialize and their appearance is awkward to say the least. Dudley swooped in during Mandela’s molt and now keepers jest that Dudley, who is due for his molt, is holding out in order to keep his romance with Madiba alive.
Bones denser and heavier than those of other birds help African penguins use less energy when diving deep for prey in the wild.
Now we’re not saying Aiden is high maintenance, but she’s not nesting with a mate who can’t provide for her. So, she chose Pilchard over Maynard. Pilchard not only protects, but also claimed a better nest niche this summer. Maynard also happened to be going through a molt when Pilchard “The Pilferer,” known for stealing food from other colony mate’s mouths, swooped in to steal Aiden! Maynard, now in his fresh feathers, still waddles past Aiden and gives her “the look.” What’s “the look” in terms of penguin communications? According to Larson, it’s a courtship behavior where male penguins arch their necks and gaze at females from the side to vie for their attention. Aiden, nonplussed, always waddles away.
Aje was known as “The Best Friend” when this season began, social with keepers and penguins alike. According to keepers, the tables have turned—drastically. Aje now only eats fish directly from the mouths of his colony mates, making feeding times difficult for keepers who carefully track each penguin’s fish intake. When he’s not stealing fish, he’s swimming with his bachelor buddies Phil and Erik. Phil and Erik are two of the regulars during Malott Family Penguin Encounters. Erik continues to be one of the most people-centric birds, though he and Phil are often seen allopreening, or grooming each other to help waterproof their feathers. Even penguins get by with a little help from their friends!
The Significant Others
Liam and Maria used to keep to themselves, nest-building and chilling in one of the most remote nest niches in their state-of-the-art habitat. However, the pair relocated this summer to the most centrally located home: the AZA SAFE Kickstarter nest on the shore of their habitat. Since then, they’ve become more social, as the Waddle Score of their new digs is hard to beat!
The AZA SAFE program has deployed these same nest boxes on the shores of South Africa to provide breeding habitat for endangered wild African penguins.
Sunny and TJ have been going strong since October 2016 when Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove opened. They prefer to interact with Robben and Preston, who are showing nesting and breeding signs. This is good news as the African Penguin SSP has recommended them to have another chick. However, these first-time parents still haven’t been able to kick Oliver, their first chick and the first-ever African penguin chick hatched and reared at Lincoln Park Zoo, out of the nest. Lead Keeper of Birds Chris Fuehrmeyer explains that Oliver is Preston’s shadow, but that things are getting a little too cozy in the pair’s nest niche with Preston, Robben and Oliver, who is six months-old and practically the size of his father. Fuehrmeyer thinks that Oliver’s time to move out is on the horizon, as he’s “perfectly assimilated into the colony now.”
Animal Care staff is hopeful that once Oliver moves out of his parents’ nest, there may be more fluff on the horizon this fall! Thanks for tuning into All My Penguins and stay tuned as we remain on chick patrol in the coming months!
Want to meet the cast of All My Penguins? Register for a Malott Family Penguin Encounter today!
Check out a Facebook Live Q&A about African penguins with Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson.
All My Penguins was made possible thanks to the expertise of the following Lincoln Park Zoo staff:
Lead Keeper of Birds Chris Fuehrmeyer
Assistant Lead Keeper of Birds Kristin Dvorak
Keeper Brianna Larson
Keeper Vickie Igleski
Zoological Manager of Birds Melissa Bailey
Hope B. McCormick Curator of Birds Sunny Nelson
Senior Animal Welfare Scientist Katie Cronin