Today is World Penguin Day so I’m really left with no choice but to spotlight our star attraction
Aptenodytes patagonica patagonica
Found in the wild along the Northern edge of Antarctica and on many sub-Antarctic islands including South Georgia, the Falklands and Deception, King Penguins are one of the most common species of penguin in the world, with a population of over 3 million and reports indicate their numbers are on the up in some regions.
Kings are the second largest species after their cousins, the Emperors. They stand at 2 and a half feet tall and weigh around 10kg. Sexes are alike and we have to use feather sexing techniques to determine the sex of our birds.
Their natural diet includes squid, krill and many species of fish, with Lantern fish a particular favourite in the wild. Kings can reach speeds in excess of 9mph in pursuit of their prey but more importantly can stay submerged for 20 minutes, enabling them to dive to depths of 900 feet where they feed.
Spending so much time at see has lead to the unusual, upright stance of the penguin family. The webbed feet are set far back on the body so that when they are swimming, the feet are behind the body, reducing drag. Stiff wings are used like paddles to propel the birds forward and a lack of land based predators have led to small feathers for warmth and efficiency in the water. Black and white feathers help hide the birds in the water depending on which angle you are looking from. Looking down, the black back blends in with the ocean depths whilst a white belly matches the brightness of the ocean surface.
Kings come ashore in huge colonies to breed, often sharing space with Elephant Seals. They do not pair for life and, after a moult, take several weeks to pair. Courtship involves lots of posturing, the regurgitation of food and duetting so as to familiarise themselves with their mates call.
A single large white egg is produced and incubated on top of the parents feet, hidden under the brood pouch to keep the egg off the ice and away from freezing winds. Both parents incubate for a period of around 56 days. The chick hatches pretty much bald and will stay tucked away on the parents feet whilst they regurgitate partially digested fish for the young.
Chicks reach adult size fairly quickly but do not develop the plumage of the adults for quite some time (up to 16 months). During this time they are reliant on the parents for food and this is the longest period before independence of any species of bird.
We currently house 13 Kings with our smaller group of Humboldt Penguins and are proud to say they are the only group in England, Wales or Ireland. Our rookery was established when the founder of Birdland, Len Hill, was able to purchase to small islands in the Falklands which were home to over 500,000 penguins. He was able to collect birds and eggs and establish the basis of our group today.
Our birds are now fed twice a day, at 11 and 2.30 with separate talks taking place at these times. Their diet is largely Herring with the odd mackerel and is supplemented daily with vitamin tablets. They seem unkeen on squid if any is given. The feed is partially given in the water but also by hand and this means that we can medicate the birds as and when necessary, with the stress of hatching to catch the birds daily.
Eggs are usually produced around this time of year and all eggs are removed for incubation, the risk of them breaking is too great. Dummy eggs are provided if we wish the parents to rear any chicks but this year we will hand rear anything that comes along.
Care of the penguins is pretty straightforward. Apart from 2 feeds the enclosure is cleaned daily with the pressure washer. The pool also gets a weekly clean to enable everyone to see the birds in their element underwater. On hot days ice and sprinklers are provided and at present we are putting an electric fence up every night as the fox is active at this time of year
To identify individuals, coloured bands are placed on the wings with no two birds have the same colour on the same wing. Should the tags come off, they are all micro chipped but can be easily recognised by sight with a bit of time and patience.
Some of the easier birds to recognise include Squeaky, who broke his beak a few years ago and still has a small rough patch on his bill where he was repaired with glue. Norman has long claws and Frank is the tallest, whilst Bill has the shortest beak and Lily is the smallest of the group. Bob stands very upright, Junior has a slight curve on the end of his beak and Syd has a small black patch in the yellow of her chest. Oscar is perhaps the chunkiest of the group and Ollie is the naughtiest/nastiest!
That leaves our three most well known penguins. Seth, who can be recognised by his swagger having starred in Batman Returns in 1993 alongside Danny Devito, Michael Keaton & Michelle Pfeiffer. Missy has a hole in her throat and a blind left eye and is the penguin we claimed last year to be the oldest in the world (36+ we believe) & finally there’s Spike.
Spike was hand reared in 2007 and because he is used to people he is our resident model/TV star. His portfolio includes Christmas Cards, encyclopaedias from DK books, adverts for LG freezers and appearing on several programmes on the BBC and Channel 5. Last year he was the penguin who spent most time with Sir David Attenborough when he filmed Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities at Birdland. He can even be befriended on facebook & twitter
In other news
The Bank Holiday weekend proved a huge success with over 3,000 people in over the 4 days. Meet the Keeper at the expanded Encounter Zone proved particularly popular with Chris, Helen and Rob kept busy more or less all day. The Hatchery also seems to be a big hit and we have had quail eggs hatching in front of the eyes of the public.
A new White Faced Whistling Duck arrived from a private breeder with 2 Emerald Doves going the other way.
The Pink Backed Pelicans continue to keep us on our toes with several birds on the nest platform with a nest present. No eggs as yet but we are anxiously keeping a close eye on them for what would be our first ever egg.
The Kookaburras, Blacksmith Plovers and Bartlett’s Doves are all sitting on eggs as are the Splendid Parakeets
The Avocets also look promising with lots of calling and displaying in the aviary and some possible pairs forming.
The Trumpeter Hornbill female has been seen investigating the nest box
We have started providing the Greater Flamingos with soil in the hope they will go on to nest build and lay
The 2 male Ruff are developing their breeding plumage which would be another first, they will look resplendent with manes of feathers around the neck, every male has a different colour scheme
King Penguins Bill and Bob are fattening for their moult
The Buffons Touraco has been moved to a different aviary with the Golden Pheasant
Sexing results were in with 2 male & 3 female Avocets, 2 female Pied Imperial Pigeon, a pair of White Faced Whistling Duck, a male Bartlett’s Dove, female Red Fronted Macaw & a female Yellow Shouldered Amazon. Typically the one we wanted to know most, Mango the hand reared Amazon, came back with no result so will have to be done again
Wildlife wise there are lots of warblers now present with at least 4 singing male Blackcap. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler & Whitethroat have all been seen or heard as well.
One of the resident Herons was seen to catch an eel in the river
Swallows are back and already nest building
At least 3 Kingfisher are present
Orange Tip butterfly has been seen on a few occasions