Penguins can’t swipe right, but they can grab a big red heart in their beak and waddle it over to deliver at their beloved’s feet.
That happened Wednesday in an annual Valentine’s Day event at the California Academy of Sciences, where biologists handed out felt hearts to a colony of African penguins, streaming on three cameras for anyone with a hankering for extra gushing and cuteness in their life.
“It’s ridiculously adorable and a great way to mention a lot of the pair bonding and parental behavior,” aquarium curator Vikki McCloskey told NPR.
“Out in the wild they’d be grabbing all sorts of items to put in their nests,” she added.
McCloskey said it’s usually males that collect the hearts and offer them to their sweethearts or rush them over to line their shared nests to encourage breeding.
“The birds that are grabbing more of the nesting material are the birds that are most likely getting ready to lay eggs or have already laid eggs,” McCloskey said.
In all there are two new chicks and 14 adult penguins in the aquarium that have all been paired off. One penguin not participating is a molting female bird. “She is obviously not interested. She’s got her own thing going on,” McCloskey said.
Spotting couples on the cams is easy. The aquarium website advises viewers to look out for birds sharing the same brightly colored wing bands.
“Males are banded on the right, females on the left. Couples, which typically have the same colored wing bands, can often be seen grooming one another near the nest box they share.”
Wooing techniques are also obvious, McCloskey remarked. Partners often bow and shake their heads at one another to reinforce their bond. Another thing they like to do is stand outside their nest boxes and bray together. “They’re basically telling everyone else, ‘We’re together and this is our house.’ ”
At the risk of bursting some romantic bubbles, McCloskey said a common misconception about penguins is that they are fully monogamous.
“They are as monogamous as people,” she said, laughing.
The tuxedoed couples, which were designated as an endangered species in 2010, develop very strong pair bonds because it requires two adults to ensure the survival of chicks and it’s extremely difficult to hold a territory for a single bird. “However, that doesn’t mean they won’t visit the neighbor every once in a while,” McCloskey added.
And at least their keepers are interested in having them try online dating.
McCloskey revealed a dating profile will soon be posted on Instagram stories for a green-banded heartthrob named Alex and other cuties.
They are tentatively calling it “Penguin Bachelor/Bachelorette.”