Five Humboldt penguin chicks hatch at Oregon Zoo

Rare moment of hatching captured on video during routine egg check

The spring baby boom continues: Five new hatchlings have joined the Oregon Zoo's 18 adult Humboldt penguins over the past month — the first penguin chicks to hatch at the zoo in four years.

During hatching season, zookeepers routinely check the progress of brooding penguin parents, briefly removing eggs from nest boxes each day to make sure they are fertile and in good condition. And this year, one of the eggs presented keepers with a rare opportunity: the chance to watch a Humboldt penguin chick as it first emerges from its shell.

"We pulled one of the eggs to check it, and it was almost done hatching," said Gwen Harris, the zoo's senior bird keeper. "Usually, we don't get to see an egg hatch — that happens inside the nest box, underneath the parents — but we were lucky enough to watch this one."

After checking the hatchling's health, keepers put it back inside its egg and returned the egg to underneath its parents.

Watch a video of the chick emerging from its shell:

Visitors can expect to see the five new chicks this summer, when the young birds fledge, emerge from their nest boxes and begin to explore their surroundings — waddling over the rocky terrain and darting through the clear water of the zoo's penguinarium. (Penguins start swimming right away, and don't need lessons the way young river otters do.)

It will be the first time in four years visitors will be able to see penguin chicks in Portland. The zoo's breeding program had been on hiatus, in part due to renovations at the zoo's penguinarium. Once the chicks emerge, they will be easy to identify: they'll be grayish-brown all over and won't develop the distinctive black-and-white markings of adult Humboldts for a couple more years.

The penguinarium reopened to the public last November, following a much-needed upgrade of its water-filtration system, one of many sustainability improvements funded by the community-supported 2008 zoo bond measure. The upgrade saves 7 million gallons of water each year.

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti), 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 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.

Through its Future for Wildlife program, the Oregon Zoo has long supported Peru-based conservation organization ACOREMA's work to protect the vulnerable Humboldt penguin. ACOREMA monitors penguin mortality and works closely with San Andrés fishermen to mitigate the practice of hunting penguins for food. The group also trains volunteer rangers, reaching out to 3,000 students, teachers and Pisco-area residents a year to raise awareness about penguin conservation.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
 
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
 
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org