Chapter 6: Say Yes to the Nest

September 13, 2017

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

What do you get when you put 15 African penguins from a variety of accredited zoos and aquariums together in one colony? Romantic storylines that could make reality TV producers envious. For a black-and-white group, there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to who’s preening who. As we enter breeding season this fall, here’s the “relationship status” of the colony:

Maria and Liam

These two are going steady as a rock—well, steady on a rock. These birds are not ones for the cookie-cutter nest box lifestyle. If you see a pair of penguins perched on the rock closest to the viewing area, it’s certainly Maria and Liam.

Robben and Preston

Can you say power couple? Nothing—not even Pilchard, who is still trying to rob Robben from Preston—can shake them. “Probben?” “Robbston?” You decide. They’re currently nest-building in one of the nest boxes in the back of their habitat. First comes preening, then comes nest-building: the first step to mating success!

Aiden and Maynard

According to Assistant Lead Keeper Kristin Dvorak, Aiden could do better. She’s a hot commodity in the colony and has a sea of suitors. Keep in mind that there’s a 1:2 female to male ratio, so she can afford to be a bit choosey. Maybe we’re missing something here, but according to keepers, Maynard is, well, a little smelly and awkward because he’s the only penguin in the colony who hasn’t completed his annual molt yet. As we discussed in Chapter 2, the molting process is an awkward time for any penguin. This relationship is not “Facebeak Official” by any means; the two haven’t even started engaging in nesting behavior. Maybe Aiden’s waiting to see how Maynard looks in his post-molt plumage?

Sunny and TJ

The heart wants what it wants. These two have remained loyal to each other even when it seemed like the world was against them. Keepers encouraged Sunny and Maynard to pair in a private, behind-the-scenes space, as recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) African Penguin Species Survival Plan® (SSP). Once they thought this bond was solid, they reintroduced the pair to the rest of the colony, but Sunny immediately slo-mo waddled back to TJ like a romantic comedy reunion scene.

Madiba and Mandela

Young love blossoms in a special nest box donated to Lincoln Park Zoo’s cozy colony through the AZA’s Invest in the Nest Kickstarter, which raised $193,560 to build state-of-the-art nest boxes for African penguins.

Madiba and Mandela (pictured above), the youngest pair in the colony, have been making the AZA Kickstarter nest box their home with the nesting materials provided by their keepers!

Here’s more information on their new digs, which visitors can see on the west side of Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove. In the wild, there were once more than one million breeding pairs of African penguins. Now there are an estimated 25,000. This is partially due to overharvesting of guano, or penguin poop, to use as fertilizer. African penguins rely on a stable layer of guano for nesting and rearing chicks. No guano? More problems. In order to remediate this and provide African penguins with safe and sturdy housing, the AZA launched a Kickstarter to develop and deploy artificial (and rigorously-tested) nest boxes on the southwest coast of Africa. So far 1,500 nest boxes have been developed!

Don’t miss the final chapter of All My Penguins in two weeks!

Learn More About African Penguins