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Oh, babies! Pittsburgh's National Aviary debuts penguin chicks

| Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
National Aviary
Baby penguin at the National Aviary. Dec. 2013

No ugly ducklings here.

A pair of penguin chicks — hatched Nov. 29 and Dec. 3 — will soon have their close-ups with visitors to the National Aviary on Pittsburgh's North Side.

The baby penguins — one male, one female — will be moved from the nest to an incubator Dec. 26, says Pilar Fish, director of veterinary medicine at the aviary. There, they will be hand-fed by staffers and gently raised to the point where they can begin walking, swimming and doing all things penguin.

The incubator will be across the hallway from the Penguin Point exhibit at the North Side aviary. Visitors will be able to monitor the progress.

“And how exciting is that?” Fish says. “How neat will it be to be able to visit Penguin Point and then come across the hall and see the chicks as they grow up.”

The two chicks, like the 16 other penguins at the aviary, are African black-footed penguins, warm-weather birds that are greatly threatened by oil spills and over-fishing in their native habitat. Fish calls the members of the exhibit “ambassadors” of an international conservation effort by creating awareness of the breed.

Their numbers decreased from 200,000 in the year 2000 to 50,000 today, Fish says, with some estimating the breed could be extinct in 15 years.

The chicks are the offspring of Sidney and Betty, who produced two chicks Feb. 26 and 29, 2012. The female chick, the older of the two, weights about 150 grams now and the male about 100.

Fish and ornithologist Robert Mulvihill were enthusiastic at the four births.

“Any time you have a hatching in an aviary, it speaks well for the conditions there,” Mulvihill says.

The four-week stage the chicks are ending is much like the eight-week stage where a puppy is ready to begin life with an owner, Fish says. In the next stretch, the chicks will be closely monitored to assess their heath. Somewhere between weeks 8 and 12, they will be able to spend some time with the other penguins during the day. They will return to a protected area during the night.

By the end of February, Aviary officials expect the little ones to be swimming in pools near the incubator area and furthering their experience in the exhibit.

The chicks should be able to join Penguin Point by spring, Fish says.

Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3, visitors can enter to win a baby penguin encounter and get up close to the little ones. Penguin-related activities will be added on select dates in January, including penguin parades, crafts, special talks and feedings, and baby penguin meet-and-greets. Details: www.aviary.org

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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