Saturday, February 13, 2010

Healthy, happy penguin chicks raised by same-sex parents

Healthy, happy sea bird chicks raised by same-sex parents
By KIRAN CHUG - The Dominion Post

Rare sea birds on the Otago peninsula have had an unconventional breeding season, with yellow-eyed penguin and albatross chicks being raised by gay couples.

At the yellow-eyed penguin reserve, two chicks have hatched from eggs abandoned by their mother, but then cared for by two males.

Meanwhile, at Taiaroa Head, an albatross chick has two mothers after a love triangle ended with its father abandoning the couple and their nest.

Howard McGrouther, who established the yellow-eyed penguin reserve and runs the conservation project Penguin Place, said the eggs were abandoned last year.

As the penguins were so rare, and only 10 pairs of birds were breeding this season, Mr McGrouther said it was important to try to hatch the eggs. "We thought we'd put them under two males."

So male adults Flax and Ngaio cared for the eggs until the two chicks hatched on November 8.

Now, the young penguins, which weigh 5.1 kilograms and 5.7kg, were healthy and happy, and still enjoying the affection and care of their two fathers, although they were likely to venture out alone soon.

While caring for eggs and hatchlings, mother and father penguins took turns spending a day to guard the nest and a day to seek food. As both carried out both roles, it was possible for two males to do just as good a job as a male and female, Mr McGrouther said.

A similar situation had led to an albatross chick at Taiaroa Head being raised by two females, as albatrosses of both sexes also took it in turns to care for the nest and hunt for food.

Sam Inder, the Royal Albatross Centre manager, said the male albatross had left the couple of lovebirds last year. "The love triangle got a bit congested and he went off chasing after some other young thing."

The two females had "plodded on" and the chick hatched last week.

DOC head ranger Lyndon Perriman said the chick was "just like any other chick" and at 750 grams was a healthy weight.


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