Aviary’s Young Penguins are Growing Up

A Look Behind the Scenes at the Birds’ Daily Life

Two gray-and-white penguins
Courtesy of the National Aviary

The National Aviary in Pittsburgh is the nation’s premier bird zoo. It’s home to more than 500 birds from more than 150 different species from around the world. Many of those creatures are exotic, endangered, and rarely seen in zoos.

Among those birds are African Penguins, who live at the Aviary’s popular Penguin Point exhibit. African Penguins are “critically endangered,” and the Aviary is working to ensure that the species is around for future generations, Aviary spokeswoman Robin Weber said.

Six penguins have hatched at the Aviary over the past three years, including the most recent two penguins in December 2014 named Happy and Goldilocks.

They’re full-grown already but still have their “juvenile feathers,” lighter gray feathers as compared to the black-and-white coloration of their older counterparts. They’ll begin to grow adult feathers when they’re about 18 months old, according to Chris Gaus, senior avoculturalist, who oversees the penguins.

African Penguins grow to be about 6 to 10 pounds and 18 inches tall. They can eat 14-20 percent of their body weight every day.

“We go through a lot of fish,” Gaus said. “The juveniles aren’t picky. They’ll eat a variety of fish.”

The young pair is still figuring out their territory, and they’re very curious, often gathering around the feet of staff members cleaning their habitat. When visitors come for a look, the juvenile penguins waddle right up to the window for a look back at them, Gaus said.

The young penguins have a big group of friends. Nineteen penguins live at Penguin Point – 10 males and 9 females.

Visitors can observe the daily life of penguins at Penguin Point and can even view the animals through an underwater window to get a 360-degree view. Add-on penguin encounters allow small groups to get “nose-to-beak” with the animals. To view the penguins at any time, check out the Penguin Cam.

African Penguins are designated as “critically endangered,” meaning that the species could become extinct in the wild. Only 18,000 breeding pairs are left in the wild. In 1900, there were more than 1.4 million penguins. The animals live on the southern and southwest coast of Africa.

Gaus attributes their decline to pollution and dwindling food supplies because of pollution and overfishing.

The Aviary is part of a breeding program called the “species survival plan” working to rebuild the species.

The Aviary also has a highly specialized avian hospital, where Dr. Pilar Fish develops protocols used by other zoos. Among her work is a procedure to treat the broken legs of long-legged birds and a treatment for fungal pneumonia.

It also specializes in conservation, breeding, husbandry, research facilities throughout the world, and in trying to save animals from extinction.

The Aviary is conservation-oriented and seeks to “inspire a respect for nature,” Weber said.

The Aviary, located on the North Side at 700 Arch Street, is an all-ages destination, popular for families, date nights, young children, and older adults. The Aviary features walk-through exhibits, hands-on experiences, interactive shows, and opportunities to hand feed the birds. It’s open from 10-5 every day, with a few exceptions as noted here.

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