55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

Live Penguin Cams 

October 13, 2011

Ocio and Safara are Back on Exhibit

Last Sunday Ocio and Safara (our red-banded couple) were re-introduced to the colony following a stay in the “love shack” to encourage pair bonding between them. This was the pair’s second stay off-exhibit together and, although they don’t seem to be spending time with each other of their own accord yet, progress was definitely made. During their first stay the two were almost completely uninterested in each other and never occupied their nest box at the same time. By the end of this most recent trip the two were almost constantly following each other around and were often seen in the nest box together. Hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll see them gravitate back towards each other but, if not, we’ll try again once things with the rest of the colony have settled down in terms of territories and mates. Ocio and Safara are young birds (5 and 4 years old, respectively) as are about half of the birds currently in our colony. African penguins reach sexual maturity in the wild at anywhere from 2-6 years of age so it’s not unexpected for our youngsters to take some additional time to form solid pair bonds.

Here are some close-ups of the two from this week:



In other news Pierre (blue-banded male) is 28 years old and is our oldest penguin. He’s also our most famous. If you haven’t read it yet there’s a great book called Pierre the Penguin which chronicles Pierre’s adventure wearing the first custom fit wet-suit for a penguin. A few years ago Pierre did not undergo his yearly molt as usual. As a result his feathers continued to wear down and, eventually, he became bald over the majority of his body. He was cold, shivering, wasn’t able to swim comfortably and was being picked on by the other penguins. His wetsuit improved the quality of his life tremendously and he was eventually able to re-grow his own feathers. He’s molted successfully since then and is currently about 2/3rds of the way finished with the process for this year.

He was not amenable to having his picture taken so here’s one of him trying to get some privacy in his nest:

Pierre molting

Filed under: CAS Penguin Colony — Penguins @ 4:26 pm


  1. Hi again! Today during the 10:30 feeding Brooke mentioned that she calls out to the penguins from 2 floors below when she gets to the academy. Was she kidding or can they really hear her from 2 floors away? Do they really call back to her? When you remove slightly matured newborns from the exhibit to finish raising them (so there is no risk of them falling in the water) do the parents constantly call out to them in an effort to find them? Also, do the penguins have behaviors that indicate familial relationships between parents and children once the offspring have matured? And what happens when a couple’s offspring is removed from the academy to go to other museums across the country? Do the parents call out for them hoping for an answer? It must be very difficult (for humans and penguins alike) to say goodbye to the little critters even though you know they’re being sent away for good reasons.

    Comment by Karen — October 24, 2011 @ 11:17 am

  2. Hi Karen, I wasn’t kidding the penguins really do hear me from 2 floors down and do call back to me, although they didn’t at first. It took about a year of working with them and perfecting my “locator call” for them to be responsive. We generally don’t remove chicks from their parents until they’re 3-4 weeks of age which, in the wild, would be the age both parents would start leaving the chick unattended to find enough food for the voracious youngster. They will also start venturing outside the nest at this age so it’s not that unnatural for them to be separated from their parents. My experience is that they do call out to each other for the first day or so and then settle down pretty quickly. With our new facility the chicks will be in constant audio contact with their parents and the rest of the colony throughout being hand-raised by staff.

    Once the chicks get their first set of swimming feathers at around 2-3 months old they “fledge” and usually leave the colony to venture out to sea. This is considered their “juvenile” stage and they are colored a more uniform grey. Once they get their adult black and white plumage (around 1 year old) they’ll return to land, often to the same colony they were born in. They have no ties with, nor recognition of, their parents or siblings. So when we send birds to other facilities there’s no heightened sense of “loss” for a sibling, offspring or parent. It is difficult for us care-takers to see birds leave, especially when we’ve known them since they hatched out which is the case for many of our birds. But as you said it is for a good reason. With the possibility for extinction in the wild looming for this species it’s critical that we work together with other institutions to preserve as much genetic diversity within the captive population as we can.

    Hope that helps and thanks as always for your support!

    Comment by Penguins — October 24, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

  3. Thanks Brooke, for your interesting and informative answers which, as always, seem to lead to more questions:
    1. With respect to your perfecting the locator call, was it a question of your getting the tone and pitch to match something that the penguins were vocalizing or was it a question of the penguins getting to recognize you and responding to whatever tone you were repeatedly vocalizing?
    2. Do other biologists also have their own locator calls which they use when they come into the academy and, if so, how do these calls differ from your call? Do the penguins seem to differentiate between humans when they hear the calls or behave differently depending on who does the calling?
    3. You mentioned a new facility with constant audio contact between parents and chicks. Has it been utilized yet and, if so, do the parents still settle down after a day or so of calling out for their chicks or does it take a lot longer? If it hasn’t been utilized yet, how do you anticipate the parents will react when being able to hear their chicks but not see them?
    4. With respect to the chicks “fledging” and venturing out to sea, where do they go? They don’t stay in the water for that whole time, do they? Are they really off on their own for 9 months before coming back to land or do they find other chicks their own age to hang out and mature with (kind of like penguin college)? And do the chicks of “fledging” age in your exhibit seem to get antsy at all when there is no place for them to venture off to? Do they exhibit any behaviors that indicate they are looking for a way to assert their independence during this period of their lives?
    5. It’s so curious that the penguins returning as adults would have no recollection of their parents etc. Based on what I’ve been reading on your blog and hearing during feedings, your birds are quite intelligent. It seems like they recognize people who return after having been gone from the academy for a while (although I don’t know what defines “a while”). Is their lack of recognition when returning from “college” due to the extreme amount of time that they’re gone during maturation or is it possibly more of a penguin pose to allow relaxed socialization throughout the penguin community? Has anyone ever done studies on this to confirm there truly is no recognition?
    6. Are there any good books or papers you would recommend on the lifestyle of the African penguin? I did, of course, purchase a copy of “Pierre the Penguin” which I am crazy about but there is so much more to learn about these wonderful little buddies of yours!
    Thanks again for everything you all do and for being accessible to those of us from far across the country!

    Comment by Karen — October 25, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

  4. I’ve noticed several times that Grendel and/or Dassen are being fed in their nest box rather than in the water. Is there a reason for this?

    Comment by Scot — October 27, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  5. Hi Brooke!
    I was so intrigued that I did a little digging and came up with more questions (you’re probably thinking, “Is she ever going to stop?!!”).
    Is it true that no one really knows where the little fledglings go or what they do during their jaunts out to sea? It seems like that’s the case based on the following quote from the African Penguin Chick Bolstering Project http://penguins.adu.org.za/pdf/00011_PTT_chick_FINAL_article_06-07-2011_4.pdf: “Unfortunately, large gaps exist in our knowledge of the period of the African Penguin life cycle from fledging until they return to breed at around three to four years old.”
    Also, can they really sleep while in the water? That’s what it seems like based on information I picked up while surfing the NEAQ website http://penguins.neaq.org/: “The penguins stay on exhibit overnight and sleep right on the islands. They can even sleep while floating in the water.”
    The more I learn about the little devils, the more questions I have!!! They are just the cutest, most fascinating little creatures around!
    Also, that diving pumpkin head looked like it was a really tough job this evening, made just a bit tougher by Ocio’s interest in it! I wish the webcams could give us a good view of how it looks from the front!!
    As ever, thanks for everything you do(along with the whole penguin team).
    Happy Halloween!

    Comment by Karen — October 27, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  6. Hi Scot, Dassen is probably getting ready to lay eggs and has not been swimming during the past handful of feeds. She is an older bird (27 years old) and we’d prefer her not to skip meals so have been offering her a chance to eat in her nest if she doesn’t join the colony down in the pool. Grendel is one of our more nervous penguins and is likely to stay in his nest if Dassen’s in it; they really like to be near each-other and have been a pair for over 15 years! It can be difficult to get fish to Dassen without giving some to Grendel so, more often than not, both birds are given “room service” fish together.

    Comment by Penguins — October 30, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  7. Thanks very much for the nice response. I heard part of the afternoon feed on the web and I thought I heard that Jahzara is also getting ready to lay eggs. Will those eggs be allowed to hatch? I was also wondering about Pomona, she’s looking a little plump recently and upgraded to a new nest box (unfortunately for Pete it had been his). Might she also be expecting?

    Comment by Scot — October 30, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  8. Hi Karen! It generally does take time for the birds to respond to a biologist and they definitely can distinguish between their care-takers based on our voices/”calls”. We haven’t reared chicks yet in our new facility but the chicks were also in auditory contact with the colony at our previous temporary facility where many of our current birds were raised (Howard, Pomona, Dunker, Safara and Pete). Our experience was that parents did settle down pretty quickly and we anticipate the same here in our new exhibit. Specifically for the African penguin I would recommend the African Penguin a natural history by Phil Hockey. However, for level of interest I would really recommend Penguins by Lloyd Spencer Davis. It is about penguins in general but I think will provide you with most of the information you’re curious about and really give you the best sense of the “penguin essence”. He’s a delightful writer and the book truly is remarkable. Enjoy!!!

    Comment by Penguins — October 30, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  9. We’re always happy to answer questions and it is true that there is a gap in knowledge during the juvenile phase for these birds. However, more telemetry tracking is being done and I expect that this gap will close over the next few years as data is compiled. They really can sleep while in the water and there are reports of juveniles being out to sea for so many continuous months that they had seaweed growing on their backs when they finally came to shore! :) That pumpkin diver was a bit tough but crafty things are not my strong suit! I plan to post a picture of it from the front hopefully tomorrow in a new blog post so…stay tuned!

    Comment by Penguins — October 30, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

  10. You are correct and we are monitoring Jahzara closely for egg-laying. We have also been noticing that Pomona looks plump and she’s been showing an increase in appetite that is most likely associated with being gravid. Howard and Pomona did move into Pete’s old nest but for the first time today Pete was defending their old nest so hopefully a switch has been made :) Neither Agulhas/Jahzara nor Howard/Pomona are recommended to breed this year by the Species Survival Plan so we won’t be hatching their eggs.

    Comment by Penguins — October 30, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

  11. Do penguins know that they are called penguins? Do they know the word penguin or do they have their own language?

    Comment by Jocelyn — October 30, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

  12. Hi Jocelyn, penguins communicate in their own unique “language” by vocalizing and performing physical behaviors called displays. For example, they are able to communicate information to each other regarding territories, mating information, partner and chick recognition, and defense against intruders.

    Comment by Penguins — October 31, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  13. Is their language called “Penguinese”?

    Comment by Jocelyn — October 31, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  14. My son and I love the app for his ipod. We watch every night to see you feed the peguins and answer questions. We live in VT so we are three hours ahead of you. I have started watching your morning feeding, 1:30pm my time, with my daycare kids to teach them about the animals and so they can hear the q and a session as well. They really enjoy it. My son and I love looking for Pierre everyday. He is soooo cute.

    Comment by Tammi — January 10, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

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