New Humboldt penguin chicks' pool time going swimmingly

May 16, 2018 - 2:03pm

The zoo's two penguin chicks venture out of their nest and into the water

The Oregon Zoo's two fluffy Humboldt penguin chicks are leaving the nest this week and hitting the pool. Pescado and Patata, named for "fish and chips" in Spanish, were born in early March and have spent the past two months in the nest, growing feathers and preparing to swim.

Once they fledge, or grow their adult feathers, penguin chicks can swim right away – no lessons needed. Pescado and Patata took one look at the water on Monday morning and waddled right to it, splashing and kicking their webbed feet.

"They were eager to get in the water," said Gwen Harris, the zoo's senior keeper of birds. "Soon they'll be faster in the water than they are on land."

The two 3-month-old chicks are still working on their waddles. Like a toddler learning to walk, they flapped their wings on the way to the pool to keep their balance.

Visitors can see Pescado and Patata exploring the rocky terrain and deep pools in their new home next week. Though nearly as tall as their parents, the young penguins are easy to spot: they're gray all over and lack the tuxedo-like plumage of the fully-grown birds. Their swim practice should be easy to see in the clear waters of the penguinarium.

In 2012, 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.

Through its Future for Wildlife program, the Oregon Zoo has 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.