Monday, February 3, 2014

Penguin tour at the Zoo

Attack penguins!
We got to have a behind the scenes tour of the penguin exhibit at the zoo. I was super excited about the penguins. Unfortunately, both kids were a little overtired by the time we got to the actual tour part, so they mostly hid behind us and didn't answer direct questions from the zoo keeper.

There are two zoo keepers who work with the penguins. This guy also takes care of a bunch of other nearby animals, like the flamingos. He had a great sense of humor too. At one point he's flipping this penguin around to show us different bits and seconds after he returned the penguin to an upright (and not pointed at his clothing, or any of us) position, the penguin shot out an impressive fountain of poop straight at the wall a few feet away. He just calmly said "You always have to watch where you point a penguin."
I didn't manage to get a good picture of it, but the thing I was most surprised by was the spiky tongue and roof of the mouth. He said that their beaks are very sensitive (to help them avoid rotten food) so he has to remember which penguin wants to get their fish spine forward, or tail forward or whatever. And none of them will eat a fish that's been ripped.

Penguins are very social, so they all came over to see what was going on when he was in the exhibit, even though there was a feeding station open on the other side of the exhibit. He knows them all by name, thanks to the coding system they have of colored bands on various flippers. Mated pairs have matching colors, with each on having the band on a different side. There's also a fair amount of difference in the configuration of the spots and bands on their chests and faces. I'm sure it wouldn't take long to tell them apart even without that

Dummy penguin egg
We got to touch and hold this dummy egg, as well as some dried penguin feathers. The feathers are super fluffy when the aren't wet. Moira and Davis were willing to touch the egg, and Moira touched the feathers, but neither of them would touch the penguin when we got the chance. They are as smooth as you expect. The flippers are very tough, and feel like leather.

Daddy roosting
The Humboldt penguins take turns sitting on the eggs and caring for chicks. This was the Dad penguin, who is a calm enough guy that the keeper could reach in and lift him up a little so we could see the egg. As soon as he did, the Mom showed up to make sure we weren't hurting the egg. Apparently she's much less friendly.

I was talking to the man who set up the tour for us, and he was saying we could maybe come watch a frog release sometime this year. I told him I think they should expand their homeschool programs and maybe set up some events where the community could help with the local conservation projects. I've been jealously reading Journey Into Unschooling about the conservation work they do through a program in the Bay Area. It would be really cool to do something like that up here. If anyone knows of a local program that lets all ages do conservation work, let me know.

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