Birds in the News

Meet the Littlest Tribute to the Late, Great David Bowie: A Baby Penguin

The bird’s name was chosen before news broke of the musician’s death.

Rock genius and glamour god David Bowie was an odd bird, and proud of it. So it's fitting that just days before the artist's death yesterday from cancer, another odd bird was named in his honor—a newborn Little Penguin that hatched last week at a zoo in Ohio.

Last Thursday, when officials at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, which hosts the largest Little Penguin colony in North America, realized that one of their chicks was starting to break out of its shell, they put out a call on Facebook asking for naming suggestions. The chick was born the next day, weighing in at less than half an ounce, and was promptly named “Bowie,” as per popular opinion. (Friday also marked the legendary artist's 69th birthday, and the release date of what turned out to be his final album.)

That the timing of the christening fell right before Bowie's death was a "strange coincidence," says Cody Sowers, the zoo’s senior aviculturist and seabird specialist. But he adds that the name is a perfect fit, given that Little Penguins, like the musician, tend to march to the beat of their own drum. They don't look much like other penguins—unlike their black-and-white cousins, these birds have an almost blue-ish cast to their coat—and at just about a foot high they're the tiniest penguin species. They also prefer beaches to ice floes, living only on the Chatham Islands of New Zealand and the southern shoreline of Australia. Little Penguins don't fly either—an aversion Bowie famously shared.

Sowers says the chick has been testing out its vocals on the zoo's avicultural staff, and it's gaining 10-15 percent of its weight each day thanks to its giant appetite. For now, its sex is still up in the air—once the chick reaches two months old the zoo will use DNA analysis to figure out if it’s male or female. Either way, "Bowie" will stay, says Sowers—appropriate for a chick whose namesake was famed for challenging gender norms.

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