School’s out for this year’s penguin nursery graduates

Five penguins have graduated from our penguin nursery, where they have learned how to live without their parents after being fledged from their nests in July.

When penguin chicks reach around eight to 12 weeks of age, their parents will not allow them back into their nest and leave them to fend for themselves.

The five Humboldt chicks - Cogsworth, Bagheera, Abu, Scuttle and Thumper - were taken to a special penguin nursery enclosure, where they were taught key penguin survival skills such as how to eat whole fish instead of the regurgitated food fed to them by their parents.

After being in the nursery for eight weeks, the chicks - who are now just over four months old - have graduated and moved back into the main penguin enclosure.

Caroline Davies, one of our penguin keepers here at Folly Farm, said she was very proud to see how much the chicks have progressed:

"It was all very emotional, as it was a big step in their lives and it was lovely to see them being confident with all the other penguins. I felt like a proud parent. They all have such distinct personalities, so it's easy to get attached. Abu is the youngest, and got told off a lot by the other chicks for pulling their tails all the time - he was definitely the naughty one."

"Cogsworth, the eldest, turned into a bit of a diva. We put mirrors in the enclosure as part of the penguins' enrichment, and she would stare at her own reflection for hours. She was also very picky about who she'd let into her nest!"

On their graduation day, the penguins were weighed and fed a big breakfast, before being walked down to the big pool in the main enclosure and reintroduced to the other 30 penguins in the colony.

Catrin Thomas, who has been a penguin keeper here since their arrival in 2013, said:

"It feels like the end of an era, saying goodbye to another group of chicks. This our second group, and both Caroline and I felt more laid back this year after being anxious first time mums last time.

"Helping the chicks get used to feeding on whole fish is hard work, especially for the first few weeks, and we also teach them how to feed under water as they would in the wild."

She added: "I would say that Thumper has the biggest appetite, she once ate 16 fish in one sitting. The average would usually be 8-10 fish. She also really likes chasing bubbles.

"Penguins are very sensory animals; they love lights and sounds in particular. We hung up some cd's for them to chase the reflections, they love looking at the lights."

The final part of the young penguins' learning process will be to learn how to socialise and feed as part of a larger group.

As part of a breeding programme, they will then move on to another zoo, where they will use what they learned at Folly Farm to integrate with a new group before finding a partner to breed with.