Keepers teach chick to speak penguin

2020 02 LC African penguin chick with speakers.jpg
(Last Updated On: February 5, 2020)

A penguin chick at Living Coasts is learning its own language by listening to recordings of adult birds.

Keepers at Torquay’s coastal zoo are playing the digital recording of the zoo’s colony of African penguins during feeding times while the chick is being hand-reared away from the other birds.

Senior Keeper Jason Keller explained: “We want this chick to grow up as a penguin and not think of itself as a human. Inevitably, hand-reared birds become imprinted – they respond to the keepers as if they are their parents. Penguins tend to lose this imprinting when they reach breeding age, but youngsters can be mischievous and disruptive in the meantime.”

The sounds help get the chick used to the complex din of a penguin colony, and forge an association between penguin noise and food. Jason: “We’re basically teaching it to speak penguin!”

Jason is trying a slightly different approach to hand-rearing, with fewer feeds and less human contact to give the chick a more natural start in life. The idea of playing the sounds of adult birds to chicks has been tried with other species, though there’s no conclusive evidence that it works. The recording of the zoo’s penguins is mixed with calls from a wild colony. Living Coasts is home to 12 macaroni penguins and 65 African penguins. It’s hoped this youngster will join them within a matter of weeks.

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