Chapter 2: Awkward

July 20, 2017

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

Written By

Chris Fuehrmeyer

Lead Keeper – Birds

It’s a catastrophe. Well, technically, a catastrophic molt. And our colony is right in the thick of it.

Madiba, Aiden, and Sunny have recently completed their annual molts, and they are looking fine in their brand new feathers. But molting ain’t easy. That’s Sunny pictured above, during a rare public appearance in full-on awkward molting phase.

Molting starts with eating. Lots and lots of eating. As our resident “discerning diner,” Sunny only eats silverside fish. Her normal intake is 20-30 per day… but when she started her molt she was known to devour more than 60 in one sitting. Robben is in that phase now. Our keeper Kristin says she’s in the “puffing” phase. Don’t judge. All the eating helps build reserves for when the old feathers start to fall—when they do, the penguins can’t swim because they temporarily lose their waterproof coats.

When they do, these elegant birds become patchy, solitary troopers. During molting time, African penguins don’t really feel like swimming, eating, or doing much of anything. When Sunny was molting, she spent most of her time in a burrow, with occasional appearances to socialize or eat. We all know the feeling.

All that said, the best time to spot a molting bird is feeding time. Most molting birds will brave the social structure in all their patchy glory when it’s time to eat. If you want to catch a glimpse of Robben molting, the next few weeks should be a good time to stop by Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove, especially if you can catch a feeding time.

Spotted this Week

Pilchard the Pilferer (known for stealing food from his colony mates) took his name to a whole new level. Keepers saw him briefly courting Aiden while her mate, Maynard, grabbed a bite on the other side of the exhibit! So far, Maynard and Aiden are still going strong, but for Pilchard, it appears to be game on.