Nine penguin chicks born at Belfast Zoo
BELFAST Zoo has celebrated the arrival of nine penguin chicks.
The penguins are gentoos, found mainly in the Falklands, South Georgia, Kerguelen, Marion, Macquarie and the Antarctic peninsula.
Gentoos are the third largest member of the penguin family, after the emperor and king penguin. They are also the fastest underwater swimming bird, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour.
The population decline of gentoos in the wild has put them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's 'nearly threatened' list.
Pollution, natural predators, increased illegal egg collection, oil exploration and disturbance caused by tourism have all contributed to the birds' decline.
Belfast Zoo is now home to 37 gentoo and two rockhopper penguins - among 17 penguin species in the world.
Zoo manager Alyn Cairns said the penguin breeding season starts in February.
"At this point in the year, keepers are responsible for installing nest rings on the pebble beach area of the enclosure," he said.
"The birds then fill these nest rings with pebbles, moss, leaves and stones.
"In fact, these pebbles are an important part of the penguin courtship ritual as males often obtain a mate by offering the female the most impressive ‘rock’ he can find.
"Female penguins then lay up to two eggs in the nest and both parents play an active role in incubating the eggs for 30 to 40 days.
"The first eggs started to hatch at the end of May and we now have a total of nine penguin chicks.
"When they first hatch the chicks are covered in fluffy feathers. However, these birds grow extremely quickly and go through a molting stage before getting their adult plumage."
Keepers have been busy trying to keep the zoo's penguin colony cool during the recent spell of hot weather.
The nests are shaded by sun shades and umbrellas and, while the birds are on the nests they are cooled by sprinklers.
Keepers have also been treating the penguins to some home-made ice lollies filled with their favourite fishy treats.
To learn more about the zoo's penguin experience, visit www.belfastzoo.co.uk/experience