20 May 2010

Q&A with Senior Bird Trainer Hayley McLellan

Ingrid Sinclair
The African penguins have been busy! Photograph by Geoff Spiby

With the news that Alan and Neptune’s chick recently hatched – and, more importantly, that he urgently needs a name – we decided to get the inside scoop on these adorable African penguin hatchlings from Two Oceans Aquarium’s Senior Bird Trainer, Hayley McLellan.

How do you monitor the hatching process?

We are constantly observing the behaviour of the penguin colony and therefore note when breeding behaviour kicks in. After this, we watch carefully for when the first egg is laid; the second egg is laid about two to three days later. We then leave the incubation of the eggs up to the parents – nature knows best! Incubation is between 38 and 42 days and the parents share incubation. We check the nest every few days to ensure that both eggs are still intact.

How many eggs do penguins lay during a season?

Two at a time, sometimes one, but never three. They can lay up to two clutches in a season.

What are some of the things that can go wrong?

We once observed that a chick was taking an unusually long time to hatch. Upon investigation we discovered that half of the eggshell from the first-hatched chick had attached itself to this chick’s shell and was hampering its successful hatch. We assisted with this hatch and it grew to be a healthy bird.

Once they have hatched, are chicks monitored very closely?

We weigh newly hatched chicks daily. When we see that they’re doing well we limit this to every two days or so. Once they reach about 800g we do not insist on weighing frequently. We want the chicks to gain approximately 10% of their body weight daily to be assured that the parents are doing a fine job at rearing. We monitor the parents’ intake of fish very closely as they need to have full bellies in order to satisfy the feeding demands of the chick.

A penguin check gets its daily weigh-in

What do chicks eat?

They eat regurgitated food from the parents. They call for food and also stimulate the parents to regurgitate by pecking in the region below the parent’s beak, near the throat area.

What will happen to these chicks once they reach maturity?

The parents typically fledge the chicks – they encourage them to leave the nest – between two and three months. At this stage we send the chicks to SANCCOB [the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds] where they are rehabilitated for release to an existing African penguin colony on Robben Island, Dassen Island, at Betty’s Bay and others.

How many penguins have hatched this year?

We’ve had six hatchlings this year, one of which we kept back to remain with the colony as a mate for our lone female, Zuki. The others were sent to SANCCOB.

See also

Plastic ain’t my bag! A very personal viewpoint from Hayley McLellan

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