Humboldt penguin chicks get in the swim of things

June 27, 2014 - 1:11pm

Three chicks that hatched this spring are now venturing out of their nest boxes

The three new Humboldt penguin chicks that hatched at the Oregon Zoo this spring have begun to emerge from their nest boxes and explore their surroundings, keepers say.

Visitors can now see the young birds — which keepers have named Aqua, Xolas and Olle — waddling over the rocky terrain and darting through the clear water of the zoo's penguinarium.

Though nearly as tall as the adult Humboldts, the young penguins are easy to identify: they are gray all over and lack the tuxedo-like plumage of adult Humboldts — notably the distinctive horseshoe-shaped band in the chest area.

Young penguins can swim right away once they fledge — no lessons needed — and visitors should have good views of these sleek sea birds darting through the clear waters of the zoo's penguinarium. A few years ago, the zoo completed a much-needed upgrade of the penguinarium's water-filtration system, one of many improvements funded by the community-supported 2008 zoo bond measure aimed at protecting animal health and safety while conserving and recycling water. The upgrade saves millions of gallons each year.

Humboldt penguins, which live along the South American coastline off of Peru and Chile, are classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and in 2010 were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Of the world's 17 penguin species, Humboldts are among the most at risk, threatened by overfishing of their prey species, entanglement in fishing nets, and breeding disruption due to commercial removal of the guano deposits where the penguins lay their eggs. Their population is estimated at 12,000 breeding pairs.