Family Travel 2011

Megan Sexton



Baby penguin, flamingos newest Riverbanks residents

Posted 8/27/2010 11:33:00 AM

There are some new additions at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia: a baby Gentoo penguin and two new pink flamingos

The gentoo chick, born June 27, is the first gentoo birth at the Columbia zoo, which has successfully bred and hatched rock hopper penguins.

For now, the gentoo baby is getting quality time with his parents, Jack and Zoey. They are caring for him behind the scenes in a climate-controlled area while his adult feathers grow in.

After he hatched, the baby was left on the nest where his parents watched over him for about 5 weeks. When he started to wander, the zookeepers moved the family to an off-exhibit area away from deep water.

Little penguins have a tendency to wander away and can fall into the water. If that happens before they grow their adult feathers, they could be in trouble. The feathers provide waterproofing and insulation in the 40-degree water.

In his temporary home, the baby has access to a shallow training pool so he can learn how to navigate the big pool in the penguin exhibit.

He should be on exhibit in a few weeks. And he’ll get a name in a couple months (his naming rights will be auctioned off at the zoo’s fundraiser -- ZOOfari -- on Oct. 2.

There are only a handful of institutions in the United States that keep Gentoo penguins, a bird native to the subantarctic islands. Gentoos are considered to be the fastest underwater swimmer of all birds, reaching speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

The flamingo chicks aren’t a first for Riverbanks. But these two little ones -- Starbuck, born June 28, and Boomer, born July 9 -- are having a little different upbringing. To mimic the behavior of wild flamingos, the chicks are removed from the exhibit each evening, kept in the Bird Conservation Center and returned to their parents each morning.

In the wild, flamingo chicks stay together in a group while their parents wander. But when the babies are reunited with their parents each morning at Riverbanks, they can tell the distinctive sounds made by their babies so they can find them, reconnect and resume caring for them.

And if you visit, you’ll be able to spot the babies right away because of their color. They’re white.

It takes flamingos about a year to “turn” pink; they get their coloring from the food they eat. At Riverbanks, that means a specialized pellet diet that contains the nutrients the birds need to hang on to their color.

Riverbanks is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.