Father’s Day is going to be busy at Belfast Zoo; nine gentoo penguin chicks have hatched recently, after being incubated by their parents for around a month.
These new arrivals bring the total number of gentoos at Belfast to 37, continuing the zoo’s breeding programme. Gentoos can reach 76 centimetres (30 inches) in height, and in the wild are found on the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands. The species has suffered because of water pollution, habitat loss, human activity and climate change, and they are protected by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959.
After over a decade of being listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘near threatened’, gentoo penguins have recently been downgraded to ‘least concern’ as their numbers are on the rise.
Senior keeper, Allan Galway, said “We are delighted to welcome the new chicks to the flock. The penguin breeding season starts in February when we install nest rings for the birds on their pebble beach. The male penguins then start to fill the nests with pebbles and stones. These are highly prized by the birds and are an important part of the courtship ritual, as males often obtain a mate by offering the female a nice pebble. Females lay up to two eggs in their nest and they are incubated by both parents for 30 to 40 days. The first eggs started to hatch a few weeks ago and since then nine chicks have appeared. The chicks are covered with fluffy and fuzzy down feathers for the first few weeks. As they get older they go through a molting phase to get their adult plumage.”
(Photos courtesy of Belfast Zoo)