Mickey the macaroni penguin celebrates 35th birthday at Pittsburgh zoo
Mickey the macaroni penguin is doing Yankee Doodle dandy.
At 35 years old, she is said to be among the oldest penguins living in captivity in the United States.
She celebrated her milestone birthday at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium on Wednesday, making loud trumpet calls and pecking at a cake crafted out of ice blocks and fish.
“Mickey is elderly, but she’s doing very well for her age. She moves a little more slowly,” said Penguin keeper Jessica Ries. “She does have some cataracts on her eyes that you see in elderly animals, but otherwise she’s aged very gracefully.”
In the wild, macaroni penguins generally live to be 10 to 15. In captivity, they can live into their 30s because of the lack of predators and the availability of veterinary care.
Macaroni penguins are native to the Antarctic peninsula. They are named after the 18th-century fashion style of English gentlemen who wore bright yellow feathers in their hats. The yellow feathers on the macaroni’s heads are similar to the hat feathers, hence their name.
“If you ever heard that Yankee Doodle ‘stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni,’ macaroni-ism was a style of fashion that was popular when these penguins were first discovered,” Ries said.
Mickey was born in 1984 and came to the Pittsburgh zoo in 2003.
She can still swim and is usually found co-preening with other macaroni penguins in the exhibit. She’s very active and doesn’t let the younger birds push her around.
“We feel that it’s a testament to the wonderful care that we give here,” Ries said of Mickey’s age.
Mickey shares a birthday with the famed Disney character Mickey Mouse.
Her “penguinality” is sweet and friendly. She’s social with the other penguins, and will have no problem sharing her birthday cake with them.
She’s seen as a grandmother figure, Ries said.
“I can trust her to babysit if we have any young chicks that needed some companionship or if their parents need a break,” Ries said.
Because of her age, Mickey isn’t able to participate in the zoo’s Penguins on Parade events, but she does come out for guest appearances, Ries said. Her affable nature also makes her a go-to for animal encounters, where people can get an up-close experience with an animal. She’s comfortable with small children and quick movements that might spook the other birds.
“We have a number of birds that we use for our encounters, but Mickey’s a crowd favorite,” Ries said.
Mickey’s always on exhibit. All of the penguins have beaded bands on their wings, which the keepers use to tell them apart. The color of Mickey’s beads are orange, white, white, orange.
Ries couldn’t estimate how long Mickey will live, but said the zoo appreciates every day it has with her.
“She’s in maybe the top five or top 10 oldest macaronis,” Ries said.