Remember that little penguin named Dindim who comes to see his human friend every summer in South America, swimming thousands of miles? What about Lala, the penguin in Japan who went shopping for fish?
These are rare cases where an exotic creature formed a bond with humans. Raising these quirky semi-aquatic birds is an almost impossible task.
So, when I had this sudden urge to adopt a baby penguin (like everybody else!), I went on to gather all the relevant information. And if you are in the same boat as me, here’s everything you need to know about baby penguins. They are such amazing creatures with so many interesting features about them.
An Introduction to Baby Penguin
Fluffy baby penguins are called chicks or nestlings. Their size, shape, and appearance vary depending on the species. Emperor penguin babies, the largest species, are 4 inches and weigh 315 grams when they’re hatched.
The smallest known species, the little penguin, weighs only 35 grams and is 3 inches tall when fully grown.
Types of Common Penguin Babies:
Penguin babies can be born with or without feathers. Most chicks take at least a year to grow their full plumage. Here are six commonly known species and how to identify them.
Emperor Penguin Chicks:
Baby emperor penguins are born without feathers and take a few weeks to grow the first layer which is light grey. The head feathers are black, and the color reaches their chins. Their face and throat remain white.
The second coat contains larger and thicker feathers and is light brownish on the chest. Juveniles have fewer black feathers on their head. Their eyes are diffused grey, and their neck is whitish brown.
King Penguin Babies:
King penguin babies are born naked and develop the first down coat in a few weeks. This layer is pale grey or brown. Their second coat is dark brown, and these chicks are fluffier than most other penguin babies.
These juveniles’ crown feathers are greyish, and the back patch is pale yellow. They also get pretty pink markings under the lower half of their beaks.
Gentoo Penguin Babies
With a first down coat of grey or greyish brown, Gentoo babies have darker heads and white underparts. The second layer grows as dark greyish brown. Juveniles have low bright orange bills than adults do.
Chinstrap Penguin Chicks
Chinstrap babies have an allover grey down coat with a lighter tone on the head. These beauties grow brownish-grey second coats with dull cream-white underparts. When they reach the juvenile phase, they develop little black streaks on the face, especially around the eyes.
But their bills are smaller than those of adults. Also, the irises are a little less sparkly.
Adelie Penguin Babies:
Adelie penguin chicks get pale-grey first feathers with a darker head. And the second coat is dusty brown in color. The juvenile phase brings white color to the throat and chin. While the cheeks, ear covers, bills, and orbital rings are dark.
African Penguin Chicks
African penguin babies have a dark brownish-grey color with paler throats and bellies. You can recognize them by the patches behind their eyes. The second coat grows blueish-grey. Underparts are brown with a short light stripe behind the eye.
African Penguins reach the juvenile phase with beautiful slate-colored upper coats. The head becomes paler on the sides. Their underparts turn white with black spots, and the bill takes a dark grey shade. African penguin babies’ legs vary from others. They would either be pale pinkish-grey or dark, dusky grey.
Macaroni Penguin Babies
Macaroni Penguin chicks have a similar second down, born with white plumage and the first coat of grey covering the head, chin, and throat. However, the dark areas turn greyish-brown.
In their juvenile stage, Macaroni Penguins have shorter crests and bills than adults. Sometimes they do not even have crests; the crown and the sides of the forecrown show yellow color. Their iris becomes dark brown, and the area covering the chin and throat appears dark grey.
Legal Matters You Need to Be Aware of
First of all, penguins are regarded as exotic birds in the US. So buying one is difficult by all means.
There is a list of exotic animals in the US that’s strictly maintained. If I were to get an exotic pet, I would need to provide the right environment and follow through with the legal procedures.
Global warming has greatly affected penguin habitats. Humans cruelly hunting them for fat and food has also contributed to the drop in the penguin population. Ten out of 18 species of penguins discovered are currently endangered.
Thus the World Conservation Union signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
So there are special laws to protect endangered animals now. This is why even if it’s legal, it is almost impossible to buy a penguin as a pet.
Terms And Conditions to Keep Penguins
- Financial Stability
Penguins are incredibly high maintenance when raised in captivity. They require a lot of healthcare and attention. They are also difficult to control. A person must be financially prepared to provide a suitable environment and an on-site veterinarian. For zoo owners, the legal stages of buying penguins become less difficult.
The cost per bird is estimated to be between $1000 to $22000 depending on the species, age, sex, and also healthcare. But this is not enough; there is more to it. It will need a mate, so $2000 minimum plus the other expenses.
- A Saltwater Swimming Pool
To align with their natural habitat, a large saltwater swimming pool is mandatory regardless of the number of birds. The pool size in international competitions is the minimum standard for penguins.
So, if I were to get a penguin, I would need to afford the high-end cleaning system to maintain proper hygiene and hire staff for manual maintenance. Moreover, I’ll have to buy tiny slippers and other props for all their waddling and recreation.
- Temperature Control
Unlike TV shows that show penguins only on the ice, actual penguins can survive in less cold areas too. They even travel to nearby regions and do not always require a freezing environment to stay alive and well.
For penguins to thrive, a temperature of 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit is a must. Northern states have an advantage. However, a super strong cooling system will be needed to achieve this temperature in an enclosed pool in a southern state. The result is happy penguins but a huge electricity bill.
- Food And Hygiene
Penguins, on average, consume 4 to 11 lbs. of fish every day. The amount increases to 13 lbs. in the breeding season. So an average penguin will need 500 lbs of fish a year. To meet this demand, the pet owner needs to be a highly skilled fisherman or have the ability to buy this quantity.
Big appetite leads to huge defecation. Cleaning this mess is a hassle, but proper hygiene needs to be maintained. At times I think having penguins as pets is a massive feat.
- Mate/Family for the Penguin
Penguins always stay in packs. Fun fact- a group of penguins in the water is called a raft, whereas it’s called a waddle if they are on land. Penguins huddle together during mating and breeding seasons, hunting time, or to protect themselves from predators.
So, keeping only one penguin will make it very lonely. Adopting two or four together is a better idea.
Also, I used even numbers because penguins are monogamous birds. If I raise two penguins, one needs to be male and the other female. Adopting them in pairs is encouraged so they can have a family and the owner can contribute to the multiplication.
Penguins in a natural colony are happier and healthier. The least we could do is get them a small family.
Can I Open A Penguin Petting Zoo?
Penguins are amongst the least sociable creatures when it comes to connecting with other species. So, I cannot imagine them being all friendly with kids who pet them and take selfies.
In fact, if my penguins even decide to show up in front of people (chances are really low), they are more likely to chase them away by screaming in a group.
Adoption Or Sponsorship
Even if I am not a zoo owner or cannot afford the full cost, there is still a slight chance that I might come close to being a penguin parent. I can adopt or sponsor a penguin. All I need to do is prove that I can handle that bare minimum amount of $1000 for a penguin while it stays in a rescue center or a penguin sanctuary.
A wildlife preservation organization is responsible for getting people to help with the sponsorship and the legal documents. Some of them provide manuals, freebies, treats, and more frequent visits along with the adoption certificate. Even naming the penguin is sometimes approved.
Penguin Eggs-Appearance And Incubation
Penguins generally lay two eggs. The only exceptions are the emperor penguins and the king penguins. Most species lay white or grey eggs; some have a green or blue tint. Penguins use the ground as their nest.
But king and emperor penguins use their feet to keep the eggs. Emperor penguin eggs are 10 – 13cm (4-5 inches) big and weigh 315 to 415 grams (11 and 15 ounces). Smaller birds like Adelie penguins lay eggs that are 5 and 8cm (2-3 inches) long and weigh between 56 and 140 grams (2-5 ounces).
Emperor penguin females lay their eggs, and the males incubate them. They stand upright and balance the eggs on top of their feet the whole time. The loose layer of featherless skin, called the brood patch, keeps the egg warm. This process takes 62 to 66 days.
All the other penguin species take 30 to 66 days for the incubation period, sharing the responsibilities between both males and females. The duration also depends on the climate and the habitat.
After this long period of incubation, the first crack appears. Orphaned penguin eggs hatched in shelters are put in incubators until they hatch.
Taking Care of Hatchlings
When it’s time to hatch, penguin chicks peep out of their eggs. On average, it takes them two to three days to chip out of their eggshells. Some of the species are born with feathers, some naked but grow the first down within a few weeks.
This layer of feathers is not water resistant, and so newly hatched babies should never be allowed in the water. Depending on the species, it takes 7 to 13 months to grow waterproof feathers. When the baby birds reach the juvenile stage, they can make their own way into the water. Adult plumage grows within a year.
What Food Should I Feed My Penguins?
Penguins primarily eat fish, Krill, and squids. And Krill is a crustacean in the family Euphausiidae. It looks a lot like shrimp. Even though weather and quantity vary in every region with every season, every penguin species has a preference for food. It helps balance the food chain.
In both the southern polar regions, smaller penguins survive on Krill and squids. Adélie penguins like small Krill, but chinstraps go for large Krill. Northern penguins, on the other hand, prefer fish. Emperor and king penguins like to have squids and fishes.
Therefore, the species’ natural choices in food should be kept in mind while raising and feeding penguin babies.
Usually, penguins feed their own cheeks. The parents hunt, swallow and/or digest the food, and regurgitate them into their mouths. Then they use their beaks like a spoon and feed their little ones.
Penguins have special kind of enzymes that keeps the food inside them without rotting. Sometimes, the food is completely digested and turned into oil. It’s called penguin ‘milk.’ But Hatchlings born and raised in captivity are most of the time orphaned.
So they are dependent on human caregivers for nutrition. The penguin shelters all have expert caregivers to feed and groom penguin babies.
The adoption and breeding of penguins in captivity should not be encouraged. But, the people who share the love for penguins can always attempt this through possible legal means.
Proper research and maintaining rules and regulations can help save orphaned and/or injured birds. In this article, I talked about pretty much everything you need to know about baby penguins.
Of course, these are still just the basic stuff. A person needs to educate themselves in every way possible before adopting an exotic bird such as a penguin.
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