Belfast Telegraph

Pictured: Penguin chicks make splash at Belfast Zoo

Belfast Zoo is celebrating the arrival of nine gentoo penguins.

The new arrivals mean there are now 37 gentoo and two rockhopper penguins at the Cave Hill site.

Belfast Zoo first became home to penguins in 1984 and since then has celebrated the arrival of many chicks, as part of the breeding programme.

Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said: “The penguin breeding season starts way back in February.  At this point in the year, keepers are responsible for installing nest rings on the pebble beach area of the enclosure. 

"The birds then fill these nest rings with pebbles, moss, leaves and stones.  In fact, these pebbles are an important part of the penguin courtship ritual as males often obtain a mate by offering the female the most impressive ‘rock’ he can find. 

"Female penguins then lay up to two eggs in the nest and both parents play an active role in incubating the eggs for 30 to 40 days. 

The first eggs started to hatch at the end of May. When they first hatch the chicks are covered in fluffy feathers. However, these birds grow extremely quickly and go through a molting stage before getting their adult plumage.”

There are 17 species of penguin in the world and all are found in the Southern hemisphere. 

The gentoo penguin is the third largest member of the penguin family, after the emperor and king penguin and is the fastest underwater swimming bird, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. 

While these birds can’t breathe underwater, they can hold their breath for long periods of time and can spend as much as 75% of their time in water.

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