Yesterday marks world Penguin Day. It’s a day to celebrate some of the unique members of the avian world. These birds are all found in the southern hemisphere–from temperate, warm waters down to the icy cold waters of the Antarctic.
If you are unable to see these majestic birds in their natural habitats (and I realize that is one thing I would love to be able to do–is see a penguin in the wild), the next best place is either a zoo or an aquarium.
The New England Aquarium actually has three species of penguins living there: the rockhopper, the little blue, and the African penguin.
The rockhopper penguin is one of the smaller species of penguin. They are found in the southern hemisphere, with one subspecies (the northern rockhopper) living in the cool temperate climates on islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The other two subspecies are found in the more southern oceans around Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand.
Their diet consists of krill, shrimp, crabs, lobsters, crayfish, squid, and fish; though they eat mostly krill and crustaceans more than fish and squid.
Their predators are all at sea (for adults) and consist of seals (leopard & fur), killer whales, and blue sharks. The eggs and young are eaten by numerous different bird species including different gulls and giant petrels (to name a few).
Both males and females look similar, so one actually has to do a DNA test to determine the gender of the penguin in captivity. Their key characteristics that differentiate them from other penguins include their red eyes, orange been, pink webbed feet, and the yellow spiky feathers on their heads. Another distinguishing characteristics is that they don’t slide on their bellies (since their habitat is rocky areas—it makes sense not to to slide downhill on their stomach), they hop from one place to another—hence the name rockhopper penguin.
The little blue penguin is the smallest species of penguin—it only gets to be about a foot tall. It lives on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand.
Their diet consists of fish, squids, and crustaceans—such as arrow squids, anchovy, and red cod. The female little blue matures at about two years of age, while the male matures at about three years of age. Their nests are close to the ocean, both parents share the duties of egg incubation and rearing the chicks (which usually fledge within seven to eight weeks after hatching).
The New England Aquarium, is the only aquarium outside of Australia and New Zealand that houses a colony of little blue penguins.
The other names for the African penguin include: the jackass penguin and the black-footed penguin. This penguin is confined to the south-western African waters, and is listed as endangered.
Since the penguin is listed as endangered—numerous breeding populations are kept at different zoos and aquariums worldwide. One reason for their numbers decline is the harsh environment in which they breed—if the birds get overheated while sitting on the eggs—they will abandon the nest and eggs won’t survive. The young face threats of predators and the heat of the sun.
Their diet is similar to other penguins and includes squid and other small crustaceans. These penguins breed in colonies, and the pairs will return to the same site each year.
Watching the penguins at the aquarium is always something I enjoy doing–mainly because you never know what they’re going to be doing. They might sit around, they may go for a swim, or wander around. They’ve always been a favorite bird of mine, and I’d love to either see the other species in the wild or at other zoos and aquariums around the country or the world.
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