Friday, December 20, 2013

Meet Mrs. Brown, the oldest captive Magellanic penguin in North America

Dr. Cassandra Bliss, right, gives a penguin named "Brown" an exam with Cheryl Dykstra at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Brown, which is estimated to be 34-years-old, is the oldest known Magellanic Penguin that is living in captivity in North America. Bliss is a veterinarian and Diplomate of the American College of the Veterinary Ophthalmology. Dykstra is the animal care supervisor for fish and birds. (Cory Morse |

By Heidi Fenton
December 19, 2013

GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- As more than 30 Magellanic penguins underwent physical exams Thursday at the John Ball Zoo, one of them received some special care and attention. "Mrs. Brown," a penguin about 34 years of age, is thought to be the oldest of the Magellanic breed living in captivity in North America. And she calls Grand Rapids home.

Veterinarian Ryan Colburn and Veterinary Ophthalmologist Cassandra Bliss examined Mrs. Brown in a separate area where she stays with another penguin away from the others. The two are kept apart because of their worsening arthritis, zoo staff say. Bliss examined Mrs. Brown's eyes Dec. 19 and said she believes the eldest bird is likely completely blind in her left eye and partially blind in the right one. Mrs. Brown is treated with great care. She holds her own. She's earned her respect as a leader in the zoo's penguin flock.

Mrs. Brown was a wild-caught penguin — one of about five now at the zoo — who came to Grand Rapids in 1983. She was already an adult at that point, 30 years ago. She found another male penguin at the zoo who became her mate. He was fondly known as "Mr. Brown," Animal Care Supervisor Cheryl Dykstra said.

The two had a son, Leroy Brown, before Mr. Brown died a few years ago. Since then, Mrs. Brown has lived a pretty private life at the zoo, Dykstra said. She's held true to the idea that penguins typically live a monogamous life.

The older penguins tend to take charge of the younger ones in the zoo's group, Dykstra said. But when it comes to live food, minnows, given as food on occasion, the younger birds get more than their share.
It's the older ones that step — waddle — back, Dykstra said, and likely think to themselves, "Why should we do it?"

They're smart enough to realize they can get their fish hand-fed, she said.


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