Penguin Breeding Behavior

Penguins as Partners


The official start of winter is just a few weeks away in Central Indiana, but a very different season is about to begin inside our Oceans​ area.

The three species of penguins here at the Zoo — rockhopper, Gentoo and king — are all native​​ ​to the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed from Indiana’s. We maintain those​​​​ seasons within our exhibit to support the penguins’ natural breeding cycles.

So as the spring gives way to summer inside our Oceans exhibit, the annual breeding season is in full swing, making this the perfect time for penguin lovers to see some unique behaviors.

Unlike many birds that build nests using soft materials, like leaves and twigs, our penguins prefer pebbles. Around the first of October, Zookeepers began scattering extra rocks throughout the exhibit — including in the pools — encouraging the penguins to scour their space selecting stones to build the best nest.

Rocky piles have taken form all around the exhibit, some out in the open and others inside caves. Building a quality nest full of prized pebbles can help a penguin win a mate. So even the nests are in place, penguins have to keep a watchful eye out for sneaky competitors trying to raid their rocks.

Penguin pairs typically stay the same from year to year, which is rare in the animal kingdom. And although it looks at times like one of the partners might be lying down on the job, the males and females play equal roles in protecting their nests. While one bird keeps the egg warm, the other finds food or stands guard nearby.

Occasionally you might see a small quarrel between some of our birds. Though it can look a little tense, this kind of behavior is natural for penguins as they protect their nests from one another — and sometimes even keepers — just as they would from competitors or predators in the wild. In fact, when our penguins show these protective behaviors, it’s a positive sign that reinforces the level of care and protection they might offer future offspring.

By early January, breeding season will be over. So make some time soon to come see these fascinating behaviors in person. Plus, you can watch our Penguin Cam all year long!

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