ROYAL OAK, Mich., June 6, 2013 – The Detroit Zoo celebrated the birth of a macaroni penguin chick on May 25 – and celebrated its rebirth the next day. Using a rare and little-known technique previously employed with success on other bird species at the Detroit Zoo, animal care staff placed the incubator-hatched penguin chick back in its egg to be "hatched" again by a set of foster parents.
Typically, penguin eggs are incubated and hatched and the chicks hand-reared by animal care staff off-exhibit at the Detroit Zoo's Penguinarium to better ensure their survival. The youngsters join the mature penguin colony about three months later, after they have fledged or grown their adult feathers for swimming.
"This is a rare opportunity for our visitors to see penguins rearing a chick," said Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Birds Tom Schneider.
The chick's parents are 25-year-old Needles, who laid the egg on April 19, and 8-year-old Diego. Because their nests are next to the habitat's pool – a risky location for raising chicks – keepers pulled the egg for artificial incubation. After 36 days, a healthy chick was hatched, weighing 4.6 ounces – the Zoo's largest macaroni chick ever. A DNA test will be conducted soon to determine the hatchling's gender.
After observing that the chick was healthy and strong, keepers put it back in its egg and secured the top with tape. The egg was placed in the nest of 30-year-old Purple Girl and 12-year-old Tubby, who had made a nest in a safer location and were diligently incubating infertile eggs. Shortly after being placed in the foster parents' nest, the chick "hatched" once again.
"The foster parents seemed a bit surprised by it all, but their parental instincts kicked in right away and both have been observed feeding 'their' baby," said Schneider. "The chick appears to be thriving and we are very encouraged and excited."
The macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) is a sub-Antarctic species found on islands surrounding Antarctica. Also known as a crested penguin, the macaroni gets its name from the bright yellow crest feathers that adorn its head. These plumes reminded early English explorers of an 18th century man, called a "macaroni", who wore flashy feathers in his hat.
The Detroit Zoo currently has 27 macaroni penguins, including the latest addition, and is one of seven institutions in North America that is home to macaronis. The Penguinarium also houses rockhopper and king penguins and features a circular pool that allows the birds to swim continuously through their habitat.