Species Spotlight – Humboldt Penguin

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The weekend past saw us celebrating Penguin Awareness Day. The day itself was on Monday (the 20th) but we made a full weekend of it, with lots of facts and pictures going online and quizzes and hands on events at the park. On Facebook alone, some of Spikes posts reached over 10,000 people! To mark the day this weeks blog is spotlighting one of our two Penguins Species.
Humboldt Penguin
Spheniscus humboldti
 Humboldt 8 Small 150x150 - Species Spotlight - Humboldt Penguin
Native to Chile & Peru
The natural diet consists of pilchards, anchovies and other surface shoaling fish, as well as squid.
Humboldts are one of 4 species in the ‘banded’ penguin family that also includes the African/Black Footed, Magellan & Galapagos Penguins. They stand at roughly 68cm and weigh in around 3-5 kilo. The sexes are alike in appearance with the males ever so slightly larger to the trained eye.
Numbers are in decline in the wild through a combination of over fishing, climate change and loss of nest sites (their droppings are a good fertiliser and many historic nest sites have been quarried). They are listed as vulnerable and the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) is the 11th largest in the world. This programme determines where birds are moved between the various European collections and I have recently offered to sit on the committee for this (waiting to hear back).
Humboldts tend to pair for life and make their nests under shelter, in caves, burrows and crevices. This keeps the eggs out of direct sunlight. They are colonial meaning that the nests are close to one another. The nest is sparsely lined and 2 white eggs are produced, which are incubated by both parents for around 40 days. The chicks are downy and stay in the nest for a couple of months whilst they grow. Often in the wild, only one chick will survive but if food is plentiful, then both chicks will fledge.
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In previous years at Birdland we have provided wooden boxes for the Humboldts to nest in. These are built to the design recommended by the EEP with the main part of the box screened off from the entrance. This means the pair occupying the nest can defend their eggs. We have lids on the boxes so we can check the birds and get access to the eggs if required.
The plan this year is a little different. As we had a new wall constructed last year it was specified that we would like the option of Humboldt nest sites to be included. 5 entry points are built into the wall and we will be attaching nest sites to these in the next few weeks. These, plus our old sites mean there will be plenty of choice for our birds. Ideally eggs and chicks will be left with the parents although we can step in if needs be, having hand reared an orphaned chick successfully back in 2008.
DSC01046 Small 150x150 - Species Spotlight - Humboldt PenguinA Humboldt chick at one day old
At present we have 4 males & 3 females. We have been communicating with the EEP about sourcing some new birds so should have some arrivals in the near future. Our 7 birds can be identified by the coloured bands that they wear, none of them share the same colour. The bands, being plastic cable ties, do fall off regularly but the birds can be ID’ed by the markings of black spots on the chest, unique to each bird. All seven are also micro chipped as a back up.
At present the penguins are fed just once a day, at 2.30 every afternoon. With the Humboldts this is in the pool although they will take fish that the Kings drop. The birds are fed predominantly Herring, with some Mackerel as well. The food is supplemented each day with vitamin tablets to make up for any goodness lost whilst the fish was frozen. This year we are looking to introduce a second penguin feed, possibly at around 11am.
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The enclosure itself is pretty straightforward to maintain. We pressure wash the main land part of penguin shore every day to remove the days poo and the pool is lowered and cleaned once a week. We also sweep through the stream at the far end on a twice weekly basis.
We are expecting the Humboldts to start showing breeding signs (lots of calling and collecting nest material) in the next few weeks so keep checking the blog & Spikes Facebook/Twitter accounts for any news.
In park news this week it has been pretty quiet, the river level has dropped and pretty much all of the park is accessible, although we are on a weather warning for more rain over the weekend.
Water levels have dropped enough to move the male Temmincks Tragopan back out into the park. We had one sharp frost with no issues but we are monitoring the weather forecast closely, with having rain expected throughout today.
Work has begun on several projects in the park. We are starting to develop what will become a pets/farmyard corner type attraction between the Encounter Zone and Eagle Owls, where people should be able to interact with Rabbits (of which 2 arrived this week), Chickens and maybe Tortoise.
We are also redeveloping part of the Discovery Zone to incorporate a hatchery, where you will be able to watch chickens, quail and ducks hatch. This will be separate to our main Incubator Room which will also be getting a re-haul soon – exciting times.
WP 20140123 001 Small 150x150 - Species Spotlight - Humboldt PenguinThis area will become a hatchery
We have agreed a new colour for our uniform which will hopefully be arriving and revealed soon. We’ve also had new signage placed in the village to attract more visitors from the main car park (not the one by us).
I wrote an article for the International Turaco Society which was published recently. There are several non-zoo organisations such as this which we are looking to get more involved in. Many private breeders specialise in just one group of birds and are a great source of knowledge should we need any advice or tips on subjects such as diet, breeding and the like.
The Northern Helmeted Curassow laid two eggs during the week, both were found broken before we had got to them. It’s a bit early to be thinking about breeding them just yet as they are still being shut away at night but a nest platform will be provided when it warms up.
The Bartlett’s Dove egg was found thrown from the nest and broken
One of our Green Imperial Pigeons died this week. The bird was moved to our hospital room where it was breathing heavily but it succumbed to a combination of lung and liver issues as highlighted from its Post Mortem. We also lost our female Lilac Breasted Roller to yersinia, a bacterial infection. The male and the Nicobar Pigeon left in the aviary are now on a course of medication for the next week as a precaution. We are now making enquiries to pair the male & our Green Imperial up.
One of the female Pelicans is being treated for mild frostbite in the tip of one of her toes. Despite being shut in every night with 2 heat sources and warm straw bedding it looks as if the tip will sloth off in the next few weeks. This won’t have any real effect on the bird who is having the area treated and cleaned each day and will be monitored over the next few weeks. She is going out each day with the rest of the group
It’s the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend and on Saturday I will be in Marshmouth Reserve from 11 til 12 armed with Binoculars, telescope, bird guides and note pad to record who is about. We are up to at least 5 Lesser Redpoll & 5 Bullfinch, with at least 8 Long Tailed Tit also present. I’ll report next week what was seen (I’m hoping for Nuthatch & Siskin and maybe even something really unusual such as Hawfinch)
Thanks for reading

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