10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Little Blue Penguins

By: Jenna L. Eckel & Jamie Becker

 

While the anticipated pandemic baby boom for humans is being called a “baby bust,” Adventure Aquarium is booming with little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) chicks.

Don’t be fooled — while these little chicks are adorable, raising little blue penguins is not easy. In fact, the little blue penguin breeding season is quite unpredictable. Through five breeding seasons, and many trials and errors, Adventure Aquarium’s Bird and Mammal Team successfully welcomed five little blue penguin chicks which is more than our previous breeding seasons combined!

Let’s dive into some little blue penguin facts, and meet our newest residents!

1). They Nest in Tiny Homes

If you visit during breeding season, you will see the colorful boxes spaced out on Little Blue Beach that have been created to replicate nest boxes used in Australia. Couples gather nesting items to make their tiny homes welcoming and cozy for their expected chick. In nature, little blues will collect branches and grasses to prepare. Here at Adventure Aquarium, our birds are given artificial aquarium plants to collect for their nursery décor. All items are approved by our board-certified veterinarian.
 
Little Blue Penguin Nesting

2). They’re on Down Under Time

In order to adjust a Southern Hemisphere species for a successful breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere, our biologists need to get a little crafty. Our team modifies the water temperatures by two-to-four degrees every two months varying from 58°F to 70°F, and changes the lighting in the exhibit to match the daily length of sunlight on Phillip Island, Australia.

Like we said, their breeding season is not easy, but each of these modifications helped us to crack a bit of the little blue penguin breeding code.

3). Environment Matters

Of course, winters in New Jersey are different from Australia or New Zealand’s winter season. The husbandry team works to ensure the conditions of Little Blue Beach are comparable to that of a rocky shoreline of Australia complete with the sounds of a nearby laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). The tiny homes they nest in have been adjusted to have ventilation holes and lifted roofs to provide better in-box temperature and humidity levels. Additionally, a fan was added to the exhibit space for improved air circulation to evaporate excess water away from the nest boxes.

(We think Sydney gave our new additions a warm welcome to Adventure Aquarium only a laughing kookaburra could give!)
 

4). G’day Mate: I Choose You

Like humans, little blue penguins only stay “married” 50 percent of the time, but will stay monogamous during the breeding season. Equally sharing parental duties, they will live together in their box and alternate sitting on the egg during the incubation period of about 36 days, and care for and feed their chick once it has hatched.
 
This season, Sheila (#8) and Phillip (#5); Kororaa (#10) Indigo (#6); Kirra (#12) and Spud (#3) and Maremma (#11) and Bloke (#4) coupled.
 

5). What Is Candling?

Each laid egg is “candled.” Candling is a process where a biologist holds an egg up to a light to illuminate the egg. This allows our team to check whether or not the egg has a viable embryo, and identify blood veins which is a sign of healthy life. Eggs are candled for the first time around 14 to 18 days after it is laid, and then periodically candled throughout the incubation period. In this video, you can actually see the embryo moving!
 
Little Blue Penguins

6). Small, But Mighty

When chicks are ready to hatch they use their “egg tooth,” a temporary sharp projection on their beak to break out of the egg. It can take a chick one to two days to fully hatch. A newly hatched chick weighs about 32g to 39g (1.28 oz to 1.37 oz).

7). Daily Weigh-ins

After a chick has hatched, it will be weighed daily. Adventure Aquarium’s veterinarian team will also give a weekly wellness check. Our team keeps diligent notes, and keeps track of progress on a “Little Blue Penguin Chick Milestone Chart.” Details like when the chick first opens his or her eyes, stands up and takes its first steps are all charted. These check-ins are done quickly to ensure chicks are only away from their parents for a few minutes.
 

8). Swimming Comes Later

Like any newborn, in the first few weeks mobility is limited. But once these chicks are on the move, our husbandry team gives them a new behind-the-scenes home so they are safe from the water that is on exhibit. During their staycation, chicks will grow in their new “waterproof feathers,” learn to accept food from their human caretakers, socialize and swim.

No arm floaties required for these guys!
 
Baby Blue Penguin

9). That Awkward Stage

We all had that awkward stage in middle school — well, little blue penguins are no different. Starting as early as two weeks old, the appearance of the little blue penguin is similar to any maturing tween. They’re wings look too small for their bodies, and they go through some really odd hairstyles.

10). Back With The Colony

Around two months old, the penguins will rejoin the little blue penguin colony as fully waterproofed juvenile penguins!