I was very excited to receive a penguin feeding experience as a present for Christmas from my husband (as a long-suffering observer of my penguin fascination I thought that was quite brave of him!). I booked it into the diary and waited and waited…. and finally the day was here!
So last Saturday we travelled to Birdworld, just outside Farnham in Surrey, so that I could feed their Humboldt penguins 🙂
I met the keeper just by the enclosure, a round pool with rocks and shrubbery all around it, and a few hungry herons hiding in the trees above. I was given a pair of lovely blue latex gloves to wear, and presented with a large bucket of fish! Penguin feeding definitely isn’t for you if you don’t like the smell or texture of dead fish…..
Feeding the adult penguins
The talk started at 11am, and while the presenter was telling the gathered audience about the penguins, the other keeper and I were throwing fish at penguins. At this time of year there have been a lot of penguin hatchings, so there were a mixture of adult and young penguins in the enclosure. The younger penguins hadn’t yet learned how to catch fish in their beaks, so we were to feed them later. But first, fish throwing! We were standing on a platform by the pool, and a core group of hungry-looking penguins stood facing us, beaks in the air, waiting……
I found it fascinating watching them as they jostled each other to catch the fish, some appearing from nowhere like the woman catching the bouquet in that Smirnoff advert. Occasionally two penguins would catch the same fish and would stand there for a second before one took ownership. And some penguins opted for the swimming and eating option, staying right underneath us as if to catch any fish we accidentally dropped in the water!
Feeding the young penguins
When the talk had finished, we were allowed to go around to the back of the enclosure (me and my cameraman aka husband!) to see the penguins up close. Armed with the bucket of fish, we then fed the young penguins, who all crowded round the keeper and I. The young penguins don’t have the sharp beaks that the older ones do, but it was still a bit disconcerting seeing all those beaks waiting for fish. We had to feed them by hand as they can’t catch fish, so we dangled fish above their beaks and waited for them to take them. Some were slower to take them than others, and it took me a while to work out where to hold the fish to make sure one of their fellow penguins didn’t get in there first.
I enjoyed being surrounded by penguins, even if I did get trodden on a few times, with beaks nudging me from all sides! I was allowed to stroke the young penguins, which were much softer and less wet and slimy than I had expected. All in all, a fabulous experience, and one I do plan to repeat in future. Birdworld have two colonies of penguins – the others are African penguins, so I would be interested to see how they behave compared with the lively and cheeky Humboldts!
For more information on Birdworld’s penguin feeding experience, click here: http://www.birdworld.co.uk/penguin-feeding-experience.html