PORTLAND — Three fluffy new chicks have joined the Oregon Zoo’s Humboldt penguin colony this month, but visitors won’t be able to watch them play in the penguinarium until this summer.
For now, the chicks will remain in their protective nest boxes, growing strong on a diet of regurgitated fish from their parents.
“The chicks look like velvety gray plush toys,” said curator Michael Illig, who oversees the zoo’s birds and species recovery programs. “They weigh just a few ounces and can fit in the palm of your hand.”
Keepers named the first Humboldt hatchling of the year, who arrived on March 11, “Porker” because of its hearty appetite. Porker and the other chicks’ genders won’t be known until their first full veterinary checkup in about three months.
Once the chicks enter the penguinarium this summer, they will be nearly as tall as their parents, but easy to spot because of their plumage. The youngsters will be grayish-brown all over and won’t develop the distinctive black-and-white tuxedo markings for a couple more years.
Young penguins can swim right away once they fledge and visitors should have good views of them, as they dart through the clear waters of the penguinarium.
The Oregon Zoo’s penguinarium simulates the endangered birds’ native habitat along the rocky coast of Chile and Peru.
Humboldt penguins, which naturally live along the South American coastline off of Peru and Chile, are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and in 2010 were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Of the world’s 17 penguin species, Humboldts are among the most at risk, threatened by over-fishing of their prey species, entanglement in fishing nets, and breeding disruption due to commercial removal of the guano deposits where the penguins lay their eggs.
Their population is estimated at 12,000 breeding pairs.