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Newly hatched penguin chicks pack personality

Little Guy's tiny black eyelids grew heavy after his 11th smelt. Big brother Tribby managed to gulp down 16 of the small fish before he, too, conked out in his handler's lap.

"Oh, yeah, he's out," said Chris Gaus, lead penguin trainer at the National Aviary in the North Side, as Tribby's head fell on his chest. "All right, buddy. Back to bed."

The aviary welcomed two new family members: a pair of African penguins hatched here last month.

Trib Total Media, which sponsors the aviary's Penguin Point exhibition, won naming rights for Tribby, hatched Feb. 26. The second, unnamed chick emerged from his egg on Feb. 29; aviary staff for now call him Little Guy.

The first penguin chicks to hatch at the aviary, they already show personality, said Steve Sarro, director of animal programs.

"They're both a little feisty -- a little attitude, and very inquisitive," Sarro said. "Tribby is very calm. The second one is a little bit younger, and he's just trying to figure out what's going on."

Tribby and Little Guy spent three weeks with mom, Bette, and dad, Sidney, named for Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. The babies live in a cooling incubator in Sarro's office, where staff members hand-feed them three times a day.

"It's always a blast hand-raising chicks," Sarro said. "We have them sit on our laps; we have people come over and interact with them. That helps them (learn) their job in education, to be an ambassador for the wild."

The global wild breeding penguin population has dwindled to fewer than 50,000, down from about 1 million less than a century ago, Sarro said. The birds are considered an endangered species.

Several factors are killing penguins, including oil pollution, commercial over-fishing, human disturbance and climate change, Sarro said. Some researchers predict that unless changes occur, wild penguins will die off completely in 15 years, he said.

"We're very good at breeding them in captivity," Sarro said. "But they should be in the wild."

Trib Total Media's chief operating officer, Jennifer Bertetto, an aviary board member, said the company wanted to get involved with Penguin Point -- and with Tribby -- because it believes in the aviary's message of "conservation and education."

People can see the newborns for the first time on Friday night during a ticketed event at the aviary. Starting March 31, they will appear at Penguin Point twice daily, at 11 a.m and 2:30 p.m. They'll enter the exhibit permanently at the end of summer.

The chicks weigh about 2 pounds each, and likely will triple or quadruple that weight.

They're still a bit unsteady. Adults stand on their legs and tuck their wings into their sides, but Tribby and Little Guy can manage only brief waddling before collapsing onto crumpled wings.

Additional Information:

Name the 'little guy'

To bid in an online auction to name the chick now being called 'Little Guy,' visit www.aviary.org .

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