There’s a new bird in Pittsburgh, but instead of being giant and yellow, this one barely weighs two pounds and has a soft black coat of baby down fur.
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium welcomed its first-ever macaroni penguin hatchling May 12.
Though it isn’t even a month old, lead aquarist and penguin keeper Katy Wozniak said it has become quite vocal.
“Just the sight of a chick is hilarious, you know with the huge feet, the huge belly, but the small wings, the small, little head and it’s peeping and peeping and chirping and chirping,” Wozniak said. “But it’s very cool to see that, because you can already see the communication between the chick and the parents start.”
The chick’s father, Zucca, is 15 years old, while his mother, Flurry, is 13. The baby itself has yet to be named.
Wozniak said having a macaroni penguin hatchling is not rare for most facilities, but part of the Pittsburgh Zoo’s collection is past the age to breed, while the others, like Zucca and Flurry, have just hit breeding age within the past few years.
She said the zoo has a lighting cycle that the penguins use to determine when it’s breeding season.
“I will bring in buckets and buckets full of rocks, we open up the back holding area,” Wozniak said. “I set up the platforms, just lay down the rocks and then they come in and they start doing their little breeding behaviors — picking up the rocks and bringing it and making their nest.”
Even though they are first-time parents, Wozniak described Zucca and Flurry as “naturals.”
“They get very protective, very attentive of their chick, so we just wanted to give them a little bit more time to bond,” Wozniak said. “To make sure that we’re not there to do anything, we’re just there to take care of their chick just as much as they are, so we’ve been observing it a lot.”
Zucca and Flurry both take part in the parenting — one regurgitates food for the baby to eat and keeps it warm while the other stands guard.
Wozniak said they will also unite to teach the chick how to swim.
“Usually the dad will kind of stand beside the chick on the water’s edge and the mom jumps in,” Wozniak said. “She’s vocalizing and calling to the chick, the chick’s vocalizing and calling back to her and then you see the dad kind of give him a little nudge, he goes in, (and) learns to swim.”
According to Wozniak, the keepers will not know whether the baby is a boy or girl until they perform a blood test on it in a few years.
She said it will not be on display for the public until the end of summer, after it has fledged and grown in its waterproof, insulated feathers.