Cincy Obscura: Love on the Rocks at the Cincinnati Zoo

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Cincinnati Zoo’s Penguin Habitat

Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

If penguins could fly, they’d be helicopter parents. Consider one of the smallest ones, the rockhoppers. They can get so cranked up about protecting their nests—even when the whole scene is totally chill and every bird is minding its own business—that they sometimes neglect to properly incubate their eggs. Which is why Cody Sowers, Cincinnati Zoo’s senior aviculturist, moves the pebbles that the hoppers nab for nesting away from the low platform where the King penguins hang out holding their eggs. He’s encouraging the rockhoppers to nest high, hoping for better baby-making all around. The zoo’s penguin species are sub-arctic—“Magellanic”—and their cool (40–50 degrees F), stony scene mimics a South American homeland, but the habit is lit for our long Northern Hemisphere days. This changes the timing, but not the technique, of mating. There’s some posturing, a lot of wing-flapping, then the female gets knocked down. Even though the participants seem to be dressed in formal wear, as Sowers notes, penguin passion “is not real glamorous.”

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