CHICAGO — At the Shedd Aquarium, Magellanic and rockhopper penguins are in the midst of creating perfect love nests using twigs and rocks in preparation for mating season. But a twist has developed.
There’s a love triangle between three Magellanic penguins, which are typically monogamous. Both Izzy and Georgia are vying for the attention of Darwin.
Last year, Darwin was known to hang out with Izzy but was briefly spotted with Georgia at the beginning of the nesting season, according to Christy Sterling, supervisor of the aquarium’s 32 penguins. “It was really short-lived,” she said. “A couple days (later) and he was back in the nest with Izzy and they laid eggs together.”
No chicks hatched from the eggs, which is not unusual in a breeding season because not all eggs laid are fertile and not all fertile eggs fully develop, Sterling said.
The flirtation between Darwin and Georgia was thought of as a one-time thing. But this nesting season has proved otherwise.
“We’ve seen him dividing his time,” Sterling said. “It could be he’s just still making up his mind.”
And it seems that Darwin’s attraction to Georgia isn’t quite as fleeting as last time, keeping the Shedd staff guessing as to which penguin will end up as Darwin’s mate.
“Sometimes when he is hanging out with Georgia, Izzy is right there,” Sterling said. Even when the two were showing signs of affection, such as using their beaks to groom each other’s feathers. “Darwin and Georgia were mutually preening and Izzy was just standing next to him. As a human, I would not put up with that,” she quipped.
The arrival of three Magellanic male penguins from the San Francisco Zoo in January doesn’t seem to be a factor this mating season as they’re still swimming and trying to find their place in their habitat, Sterling said. But that could change in the future.
“By having the three new males, it could shake up the social dynamics,” Sterling said.
The nesting in the penguin habitat began in late March, with male penguins doing the heavy lifting in building the nests. Eggs are expected to be seen at the end of April into May, but they might not be visible to Shedd visitors because the aquatic birds are vigilant about sitting on the nests to keep the eggs warm.