Sedgwick County Zoo welcomes two Humboldt chicks

A 14-day-old Humboldt penguin at Sedgwick County Zoo's Cessna penguin exhibit.
A 14-day-old Humboldt penguin at Sedgwick County Zoo's Cessna penguin exhibit. Courtesy photo

For now, they are known as Chick 1 and Chick 2. If all goes well, they may soon be joined by Chick 3 and Chick 4. Chick 1 and Chick 2 are the first Humboldt penguins hatched at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

On Thursday, during their media debut, the two chicks refused to come out for the cameras, standing firmly behind Mom and Dad, offering only downy, shadowy glimpses of themselves.

"There is a lot of drama in our penguins," said Joe Barkowski, the zoo's curator of birds.

The zoo's Cessna Penguin Cove currently has 14 adult penguins — plus the two babies. Within a few weeks, there is a strong possibility two more penguins may hatch, Barkowski said.

Sedgwick County Zoo participates with other zoos in species survival plans, which are monitored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Sedgwick County Zoo officials began planning more than a year ago which penguin parents would be the most suitable to reproduce.

"The SSPs give us guidance on genetic and demographic pairings and which are the best to breed," Barkowski said.

One pair of the zoo's penguins who mated this winter were placed low on the reproduction priority list.

"Their offspring wouldn't be beneficial to the species' survival," Barkowski said.

So, their eggs were taken from them and replaced with fake eggs.

Another couple of penguins placed high in desirability, he said. One of their eggs was given to the first couple to raise.

"We were hedging our bets that they would each hatch one and put all their energy into one chick to increase the survivability of both chicks," he said.

On March 21, Chick 1 was hatched. But the foster parents didn't know what to do.

"Both pairs of penguins had never raised chicks before," Barkowski said. "Mom and Dad just didn't get it. They were protective. They incubated. They did everything right. They just were not giving the chick enough food."

So, zoo staff stepped in and gave the tiny chick enough food to keep it strong and active. Within a few days, Mom and Dad became more confident in their parenting.

In the meantime, Chick 2 hatched. From its birth, it ate and ate and ate.

The two chicks now weigh about 2 1/2 pounds. When fully grown, they will weigh closer to 8 pounds.

Barkowski said that as the chicks mature, they will begin to explore the exhibit and the public should be able to catch more glimpses of them.

The public may notice that none of the adult penguins are swimming much in their pool, he said. That's because they are nesting.

The adult penguins will occasionally come and take dips in the pool — and with them, perhaps there will be a sighting of a baby penguin.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle