Gentoo penguin parents provide food and warmth to their chick at the ABQ BioPark Zoo on Monday. The chick is the first-ever hatched at the zoo since the July 2019 opening of the Penguin Chill exhibit. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Love is in the frosty air at the ABQ BioPark Zoo’s Penguin Chill exhibit, where the first ever penguin chick hatched last month.

In addition to the hatching of the gentoo penguin chick, five other gentoo pairs are nesting, as are three macaroni penguin pairs.

The egg of the new hatchling was discovered in mid-October. Female parent Digit and male parent Killian took turns incubating it until it hatched on Nov. 22 – the first hatched at the zoo since the Penguin Chill exhibit opened in July 2019.

The announcement of the chick’s arrival was delayed until Dec. 3 because “the first 10 days of a hatchling’s life are precarious, with a high mortality rate,” said Ashley Bauer, the BioPark’s assistant curator of birds.

“The penguin team is very excited to welcome a baby penguin for the very first time,” she said. “Our dedicated staff of penguin professionals has worked hard to ensure that our birds are thriving, and breeding is a great indicator that they are comfortable in their home.”

The penguins built their nesting sites using some of the 1,200 pounds of landscaping stones inside BMX motorcycle tires left for them in the exhibit.

During the chick’s 10-day wellness check last week, it tipped the scale at over one pound, indicating the bird had nearly quadrupled in weight since it hatched. The chick is healthy and being kept warm by Digit and Killian, who will continue taking turns sitting on the chick until it grows larger and can regulate its own body temperature, Bauer said.

Keepers are feeding Digit and Killian four times a day, instead of twice, to ensure that the penguin parents have enough food to regurgitate for their offspring.

The new hatchling does not yet have a name, nor is its gender known. A blood test that will be done in the next 70 to 90 days will determine if it is male or female, Bauer said.

A penguin keeper at the ABQ BioPark Zoo, examines a gentoo penguin chick shortly after it hatched. (Courtesy ABQ BioPark)

It will likely take a month or more before the chick starts to venture out from its nest. When its downy feathers drop off to make room for its waterproof feathers, keepers will take the chick to a behind-the-scenes holding area, where a kiddie pool will be used to acclimate the chick to swimming before it’s let loose in the main tank.

Penguins in general are only monogamous during the breeding season. Digit and Killian are a little unusual in that they have been paired since the Penguin Chill exhibit opened in 2019, Bauer said.

The exhibit reopened Saturday after closing to visitors on Oct. 11 to protect the birds from the highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. As a continued precaution against visitors tracking in the contagious virus, the upper area of the exhibit is open only to penguin keepers and zoo staff.

Most of the other birds on display throughout the BioPark remain off-exhibit while zoo officials continue to monitor the status of the bird flu. The virus occurs naturally in wild waterfowl populations but can spread to domestic poultry through contact with an infected bird’s feces or other secretions.