Hellabrunn Zoo celebrates birth of king penguin chick

While the adults waddle around with their brightly colored heads and yellow-orange chests, a gray, fluffy newborn chick has come along to steal the show. The chick is the first king penguin to be born at Hellabrunn Zoo in eleven years.

Copyright Tierpark Hellabrunn/Marc Müller

Copyright Tierpark Hellabrunn/Marc Müller

Copyright Tierpark Hellabrunn/Marc Müller

Like all good woolies, the little gray penguin waddles between his parents across the wintry landscape of Hellabrunn's Polar World. The father, 22-year-old Nautilus, and the mother, eleven-year old Rocio, keep a watchful eye on their little one. As if they know how special the birth of the king penguin chick is, not only to them, but to us all. It has been eleven years since a king penguin was born at Hellabrunn Zoo.

Nautilus and Rocio, who arrived from Faunia Zoo in Madrid two years ago, became parents for the first time on 11 October. King penguins are notoriously difficult to breed. First, the right partners have to be brought together, and then both parents have to take turns incubating the egg, guarding the chick and foraging for food to feed the newborn.

Working with each other in shifts has worked perfectly for Rocio and Nautilus: For about 55 days both parents took turns sitting on the egg. Once the chick emerges from the egg, the mother and father alternate between guarding the newborn and foraging for food. The chick is fed regurgitated fish up to twenty times a day. Whenever the wooly, or king penguin chick, is hungry it makes a unique begging call to attract the parents’ attention - sounding at times almost like a singing canary!

"Our little king penguin is doing great! And it’s well looked after by its parents,” says zoo director Rasem Baban. “In about seven months, after the molt, we will be able to take a sample of its feathers and run some DNA tests to determine if it is male or female. But no matter what gender it is, the birth of a king penguin chick after eleven years is a great success."

Every day the little wooly’s plumage grows longer and denser until it eventually resembles a gray fur coat. However, for the first five to six months it must remain out of the water until it acquires its juvenile plumage. Only then will the chick have grown the additional oily, waterproof outer layer that serves as the perfect protection against cold and wet for adults. The little wooly is expected to become independent at around ten months. But for now, the newborn chick is being carefully guarded by his parents and watched with great curiosity by the other two king penguin pairs at Hellabrunn Zoo.