SHEDD AQUARIUM — The penguins of Shedd Aquarium are ready to play the mating game.
Mating season is underway for the penguins at the Shedd, and staff began setting the mood Monday by laying the rocks and faux-grass tubes the aquarium's 31 flightless birds will use to make their nests.
The Shedd has been mating its penguins since 1995, hatching about 100 chicks over the years, said Christy Sterling, Shedd's assistant supervisor of penguins and otters. The Shedd's penguin collection is divided into two species: The Magellanic penguins native to coastal South America, and the crested rockhopper penguins that tend to drift further out to sea.
While the Magellanic penguins are monogamous and usually find a mate for life, "it's a little bit more of a soap opera" for the rockhoppers, Sterling said. Penguins' mating season begins when days get longer, and usually lasts till May.
So Shedd visitors will soon be able to see the aquarium's penguins get flirty. A telltale sign: when a male bows his head and starts shaking for the females. Though the birds are already making their nests, they don't confine their mating to inside the nests.
"We don't control that. It just happens," Sterling said.
Sterling did not recall which of its penguins procreate the most, but did recall the love stories of two longtime Shedd penguin couples: Lucy and Rocky, and Magellan and Esmeralda. The penguins, all Magellanic, met in 2009 after arriving from different SeaWorld parks.
Penguins mature to adulthood at age 4 or 5, and some of the Shedd's penguins are as old as 27, older than they usually live in the wild, Sterling said. Though a few of the aquarium's penguins are happily mated, others are often left out of mating season and have been lifelong bachelors.
"It's hard to say," Sterling said. "They just haven't found the one."
Learn more about penguins from the Shedd here.
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