Your penguin questions answered…

Photo by Kelli O'Brien
Photo by Kelli O’Brien

If you spend enough time at the Zoo this summer, you’re likely to get a chance to see our animal care staff feeding our colony of African black-footed penguins. If you stick around until the end of the feeding, you’ll have the opportunity to ask the keeper a few questions about our penguins. Click here to watch a cool time lapse of our penguin feeding.In the meantime, lets take a look at some of the more popular questions asked:

Q: Do they all have names and can you really identify each penguin?

A: Yes, they do all have names and can easily be identified using a number of visual cues, the most obvious being a colored wing band. Each band not only identifies the bird by name but also its sex and genetic family. A band located on the bird’s right wing identifies it as a female while a band on the left wing tells you it is a male. When unbanned, which they are during their molt, keepers can identify penguins by their spot patterns, body size and unique behaviors learned from observing them day after day.

Q: What are you writing on the clipboard?

A: Believe it or not, we make every effort to track what each penguin eats, on a daily basis. As with most animals, a change in feeding habits is the first sign of a health issue. With penguins in particular, an increase in appetite can also be a sign that the bird is about to molt – an annual occurrence where the penguin will drop and replace all its feathers.

Q: How much do the penguins eat?
A: Since we’re talking about nearly 40 penguins, that’s a tricky question. Each bird will have slightly different feeding preferences. Some prefer lake smelt, a small freshwater fish while others may prefer capelin, a slightly larger saltwater smelt. These feeding habits also change during the year, especially when approaching a molt. In the days leading up to a molt, a penguin’s daily intake could easily triple as they prepare for time out of the water while they shed their old feather and replace them with new feathers.

While some of our penguins have been recorded eating over 70 fish in one day, statistical analysis of our feed records show that, on average, each bird consumes roughly 16 per day. That equates to roughly one pound of fish per bird per day. Last year, our penguin colony consumed over 230,000 fish, weighing over seven tons and were dispensed over 14,000 vitamins. Not bad for a bird that seldom weighs over 7 pounds!

– Kevin Blakely, zoo keeper


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