First Hatch in 11 Years

On December 11, 2020, a female southern rockhopper penguin hatched at Penguin & Puffin Coast. Read on for the remarkable hatch story, which involves the penguin chick's biological parents and foster parents.

Meet Opal!

We asked for your help choosing a name for our southern rockhopper penguin chick from the four potential names selected by our bird keepers.

The results are in and the name is...Opal!

The four female name choices were:

  • Opal – 16,806 votes

    The story behind the name: Fire opal is a gemstone with a beautiful yellow and orange shimmer, similar to the color of an adult rockhopper’s orange beak and bright yellow eyebrows. 

  • Pebbles – 9,301 votes

    The story behind the name:  The egg was laid in a foundation of small river rocks and grasses at Penguin & Puffin Coast. Once hatched, the chick was so small that it looked like a pebble. 

  •  Luna – 5,847 votes

    The story behind the name: A rockhopper’s white belly and black back resemble a crescent moon. There was a crescent moon the week of the chick's hatch.  

  •  Lumi – 4,666 votes

    The story behind the name: “Lumi” means snow in Finnish. The soft white down of the rockhopper chick's belly looked like freshly fallen snow.  

Thank you for voting!
Soon the chick will be reintroduced to her rockhopper family and other penguins in their public habitat at Penguin & Puffin Coast.

Remarkable Hatch Story

This is the first successful hatch of this species at the Zoo in 11 years. Efforts to successfully incubate and hatch this chick required careful planning, great skill and expertise from the care teams in the Bird Department.

The chick's journey began when mom Star, age 18, laid an egg in a nest full of rocks and grasses carefully built by dad Rocky, age 18.

In the past, Star and Rocky had some difficulty successfully incubating eggs on their own, so the bird care team decided to move this egg to an artificial incubator at the Bird House to increase its chances of survival. Keepers gave Star and Rocky a temporary "dummy" egg so they could continue to practice incubating.

For 32 days, keepers monitored the chick's progress during incubation. Every three days, the egg was weighed and briefly examined with a bright light to see the embryo and vessels inside.

To make sure the chick was in the correct position to hatch, the Zoo veterinary team took the chick’s first-ever picture using X-rays. Keepers were able to see that the chick was positioned correctly for hatching and had all the correct anatomy like spine, wings and feet.

Foster Parents

When the chick first started to break through its shell, the bird care team knew that it was time to place the egg under the parents. While Star and Rocky had made a wonderful nest, it was located right above open water and much too dangerous for a wiggling chick. The egg was instead carefully placed in the nest of another pair of southern rockhopper penguins — a female also named Rockie, age 25, and a male named Buddha, age 13 — who were nesting in a much safer location. They would become the chick’s foster parents.

Rockie and Buddha had produced their own egg, too, around the same time, but it was not fertile. Over the next 48 hours, the chick wiggled and peeped to alert the foster parents that it was making its way out. Once the chick was fully out of the egg, the foster parents eagerly fed the chick around the clock.

The chick's biological parents, Star and Rocky, remain nearby in the same habitat, so the chick will grow up knowing them as part of the larger colony. We are hopeful that each pair will someday successfully produce and rear their own chicks.

About Southern Rockhopper Penguins

Southern rockhoppers are a vulnerable species of subantarctic penguin native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These tiny but tough penguins are also found along the southern coast of South America. Like many penguins, southern rockhoppers form lasting bonds with their mate. They will return to the same nest site year after year.

The birth was the result of a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Southern Rockhopper Species Survival Plan (SSP),  a program to manage a genetically healthy population of Southern Rockhopper Penguins in North American zoos.

Growing Up!

Transitioning the family to the behind-the-scenes area of Penguin & Puffin Coast is the first step in acclimating the young chick to keepers while giving the birds a free space for the chick to try out its newfound hopping legs. Penguin chicks are adventurous, and the open water can be quite dangerous for them. The chick’s down is warm, but not waterproof, so a slip into the water can chill the chick very quickly.

In the private, behind-the-scenes area, our Southern rockhopper chick is weighed every three days and keepers make note of daily milestones, such as venturing out from nest, reduction in begging for food from mom and dad, and changes in feathers and coloration, especially the growth of the iconic yellow feathers around its eyes.
At this stage in the chick’s development, mom and dad will leave the chick for longer periods of time to take care of other penguin duties, like swimming and eating. This time away gets longer and longer, and eventually, the parents will officially wean the chick, and keepers will step in to transition the chick to eating whole fish. Social company is important, so the chick gets to spend its days with other penguins like rockhopper Aunt Teresa or gentoo Aunt Trouble. 
When the bird care team sees that the chick is ready, at approximately 3 months old, they will reintroduce her to her rockhopper family and the rest of the penguins in their public habitat at Penguin & Puffin Coast.

Play Date

Penguin play dates may look all fun and games, but they provide opportunities for the birds to learn very important lifelong skills. These skills include learning to maneuver around much larger species like the gentoo and king penguins (and king penguin chicks) or learning the subtle social cues of rockhopper penguins.

Being social with bird care staff is also very important. Rockhopper Teresa is a good role model for Opal, as she can show that climbing on bird care staff is a safe and fun activity. This opens the door for many more fun opportunities for Opal like participating in spontaneous walks or special training challenges.

Swimming with Friends

At about 4 months old, Opal took her first swim — er, snorkel — in the Penguin & Puffin Coast habitat pool after some careful exploration, and the penguin keepers caught it all on camera. Now, at about 5 months old, she can frequently be seen swimming and climbing the rocks with the other birds. While Opal is already fully grown, she can still be distinguished by the lack of her long yellow crest feathers on top of her head, which will grow in at about 2 years old.