It’s a Girl… Penguin!

On December 11, 2020, a southern rockhopper penguin chick hatched at the Saint Louis Zoo. 


This was the first successful hatch of this species at the zoo in 11 years. The Saint Louis Zoo asked the public to help decide the new chick’s name. On March 3, 2021, the name Opal was announced to be the winner. 


This hatching was carefully planned and required constant observation from keepers in the zoo’s Bird Department. Opal’s journey began when her mom, Star, laid an egg in a nest that was carefully crafted by her dad, Rocky. Star and Rocky have had trouble trying to incubate eggs in the past, so the bird care team decided to move the egg to an artificial incubator to increase its chances of survival. Keepers gave Star and Rocky a fake egg in the meantime so they could keep practicing. Keepers monitored the chick’s process for 32 days with x-rays and examinations. 


When the chick first started to hatch, the bird care team knew it was time to return the egg to its parents. But Star and Rocky’s nest was located right above open water which would be too dangerous for a chick. Keepers decided to place the egg with another pair of southern rockhopper penguins named Rockie and Buddha, who became Opal’s foster parents.


Over the next 48 hours, the chick wiggled her way out of the egg. Rockie and Buddha eagerly fed the chick once it was fully hatched. 


Keepers at the zoo had to transition the penguin family to the behind-the-scenes area of Penguin & Puffin Coast to acclimate the chick to keepers and keep it safe. Open water can be quite dangerous for chicks because the chick’s down is not waterproof and falling into the water could chill the chick pretty quickly.


The chick is weighed every three days and keepers are making note of daily milestones. The chick needs to be social, so she spends a lot of time with other penguins like rockhopper Aunt Teresa or gentoo Aunt Trouble. 


For those wanting to see Opal, the Saint Louis Zoo is open daily 9AM – 5PM, and admission is free. Guests must now reserve time tickets prior to visiting due to the Zoo’s new COVID health and safety guidelines.