After weeks of molting season in our 3M Penguins of the African Coast exhibit, our African penguins are now finally ready to debut their new plumage! Just like penguins in the wild, our flock here at Minnesota Zoo undergoes a complete molt for 3 weeks each year. Some of these birds have now finished their molt and are exhibiting some shiny new and transformed feathers!
Although African penguins constantly preen their feathers to keep waterproofed and safe from environmental elements such as sun and wind, these birds only fully shed their feathers typically once per year! This big-time molt lasts about 21 days in any month of the year, on each bird’s own individual anniversary date! At the Minnesota Zoo, this typically occurs between April and October. This fresh plumage replaces weathered old feathers with stronger new ones to better keep penguins warm and comfortable. During this time, African Penguins lose feathers in the same way that we lose teeth, with new fresh feathers pushing out old ones from underneath.
While African penguins grow in their new plumage, they must remain exclusively on land. During a molt, a penguin is not waterproof and is unable to dive for fish. To prepare for their weeks-long fasting, these birds gain approximately 30% of their body weight in fat stores before beginning their molt. An increase in hunger signals this pre-molt stage for our Zoo staff, just as the penguins’ return to water will indicate the molt’s end!
For many young penguins, the first complete molt is a symbol of maturity. Most in the flock will not lose their juvenile plumage until they are nearly two years old, at which time these young penguins replace these feathers with an adult plumage! This first molt is very special for penguins, as it introduces their permanent adult pattern. Here at Minnesota Zoo, several young penguins like Indi (pictured above) have just completed their first molt and now look all grown up! After such an impressive transformation, Indi and her pals enjoy a refreshing dip in their pool!
To learn more about the life cycle and habits of African Penguins, visit http://mnzoo.org/blog/animals/african-penguin/ or the 3M Penguins of the African Coast exhibit at Minnesota Zoo!