Behind the Scenes: Little and Blue and On the Move!

Five of our Little Blues are off to the Cincinnati Zoo to become part of a new breeding colony! This is the first time in Birch Aquarium’s history that we’ve had the opportunity to send Little Blue Penguins to another institution. While we’re sad to see them go, we know they will play a vital role in ensuring a healthy penguin population.

“We will all miss these penguins very much,” said Kayla, Assistant Curator of Birds at Birch Aquarium. “You get quite attached to the animals in your care, but it is so important to the health of the population to participate in these transfers. We are proud to play a role in making this program successful!”

Ensuring Healthy Penguin Populations

As a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium participates in several cooperative breeding programs called Species Survival Programs (SSP). This collaborative work helps to maintain the genetic diversity of certain species in zoos and aquariums to ensure healthy and thriving populations. This work is especially important as Little Blue Penguin numbers have declined in recent years from climate change and human development.

“Collaboration with other institutions is essential to maintaining a healthy and thriving penguin population across the U.S.,” said Jenn Nero Moffatt, Senior Director of Animal Care, Science and Conservation at Birch Aquarium.

This year, SSP coordinators for Little Blue Penguins for the USA and Australia recommended that five of our penguins — Sheldon, Squid, Craig, Odette and Bo — become part of new breeding colonies at Cincinnati Zoo. So how did we send these penguins on a 2,000-mile cross-country move? Let’s dive into the details!

How a Flightless Bird Takes Flight

In preparation for the journey, our Husbandry Team and Veterinary Team worked together to examine each penguin — from beak to toe and every feather in between — to ensure they were in tiptop health before their flight!

Team members prepare a travel crate for little blue penguins.
Laura and Kayla from our Husbandry Team worked with our Veterinary Team to examine each penguin before the journey to Cincinnati!

During this pre-flight checkup, they measured their total weight and length, took some x-rays, gathered blood samples and performed a few other routine tests. They also examined individual features like their eyes, feathers, flippers and beak. Once each penguin received a clean bill of health, we gently placed them in their cozy carriers for the next leg of their journey.

All packed up and ready to go, Kayla and Laura drove our penguins (slightly) up the coast to the Los Angeles International Airport and upon arriving, our penguins were enthusiastically greeted by the airlines crew! After one final checkup and one last goodbye, our penguins took flight and arrived safe and sound to their new home at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Preparing little blue penguin crates for travel.

“All of us in Team Bird are excited to add these new penguins to our Roo Valley colony. Anytime we can collaborate with other facilities to help out the North American population is a no brainer!,” said Cody Sowers, Team Leader of the bird department. “I’m excited to watch them acclimate to their new home here in Cincinnati.”

Little blue penguin travel crates.

Our Work Continues

While this is our first opportunity to share our penguins, we know it’s not our last. Overtime as our colony continues to grow, we’re excited to help raise, care for and share generations of Little Blue Penguins.

“It will be fun to hear updates about their new colony and whether they pair with others and raise their own chicks one day,” said Kayla.

We’re honored to be part of this collaborative effort and can’t wait to continue to share updates with you all! Thank you for your continued support … and if you ever find yourself at the Cincinnati Zoo be sure to give a big hello to these Little Blues.

Little blue penguins in habitat.