A rockhopper penguin chick has emerged from its shell in the Montreal Biodôme, and it’s being well cared for by its parents and a team of experts.
“I’m always extremely excited about chicks,” said Emiko Wong, head of the Biodôme’s living collections department.
“I’m a true true sucker for chicks. They’re just adorable in all kinds of ways and even more so when it’s a penguin.”
The baby bird, an endangered species, was born on Oct. 28. The last successful birth was two years ago. In 2016, three chicks were born at the Biodôme.
Among zoological institutions in North America that keep the rockhopper penguin, the Biodôme has the largest colony and is the only one successfully breeding the species, according to the Space For Life Museum — the umbrella organization that manages sites like the Insectarium, Planetarium and Botanical Garden.
“When we have larger colonies, we have more potential for mates to find each other because there’s a bond,” said Wong, noting rockhoppers are monogamous.
The penguins live in the Biodôme habitat that replicates the tip of South America, where there are rocky islands in a subantarctic zone.
Hopping from rock to rock, or swimming in the Antarctic Ocean, the rockhopper penguin lives 10 to 15 years in the wild. But it can live about 30 years in captivity.
They weigh two to two and a half kilograms. The males and females are identical, with a yellow line above their eyes and a crown of long yellow and black feathers.
The female lays one clutch with two eggs per year, one of them smaller than the other. Only one of the young, generally the one hatched from the larger egg, survives in the wild.
The male and female take turns caring for the eggs and young. In this case, Biodôme staff put the eggs in an incubator.
“And we actually see the chick moving in the eggs,” said Wong. “A few days before the pipping and the chipping and the hatching, we put it back under the parents.”
At the Biodôme there are seven other rockhopper penguin couples, and many have already laid two eggs.
“All these seven couples have found their nest,” she said.
In 2013, about 240,000 northern rockhopper pairs were counted in the wild, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) found the population had declined by 57 percent over the last four decades.
Climate change is thought to be one the main reasons for the decline as temperature variations affect the bird’s ability to breed and limits food sources. Rockhoppers eat mostly krill, but also cephalopods.
Humans also play a role in the decline, with intense fishing and oil drilling affecting penguins’ environment, the Biodôme says on its website.
For now, the Biodôme’s new chick doesn’t have a name. In fact, because males and females look so much alike, it’s impossible to know its gender without a DNA test. That will be done later, when the chick is a bit older, Wong said.
And now with seven couples nesting in the Biodôme, Wong said she hopes there will be a few more rockhoppers swimming in the habitat next year.