Courtney Szpur has something in common with the latest addition to the Tennessee Aquarium's Penguins' Rock exhibit.
Thursday was her 15th birthday, and the aquarium's newest resident hatched just hours before she and her family arrived to celebrate her big day.
"We come one or two times a month," said Courtney, of Georgetown, Tenn., noting the penguins were her favorite exhibit. "I can't wait to see it grow up and get bigger."
Macaroni penguins Chaos and Paulie are the proud parents of the new chick. The bird is believed to have started hatching from its egg Thursday morning and was completely emerged by the afternoon. The process occurred under the careful guard of its parents.
This is the first time a penguin has been born at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.
Little is know about the baby bird. So far, even the penguins' closest caretaker, Amy Graves, has yet to see the penguin up close. Thursday began a 14-day period where the parents will continue to sit atop the baby until it can maintain its own body weight.
Ms. Graves has not seen the bird, but she's heard it, she said.
"I heard a very soft, yet strong, 'peep, peep, peep,'" she said. "This was good news to my ears because when you hear the chick vocalizing, then you know that the chick is alive."
There will be few opportunities for visitors to see the baby bird over the next two weeks. Aquarium officials say they will post pictures and videos online, but once the bird is more independent visitors will get ample opportunity to see the penguin.
"There are few things cuter than a penguin, except maybe a baby penguin," said Thom Benson, the aquarium's spokesman.
There may be a naming contest. When the birds arrived in 2007, about 8,000 people logged onto the aquarium's Web site to help select names, Ms. Graves said. The exhibit now has 20 residents.
There are still three other unhatched eggs born to two sets of parents in the exhibit. Biscuit and Blue and Bug and Big T are all nesting atop eggs. If their eggs are fertile, all the new arrivals should be in place by mid-July, Ms. Graves estimates.
But penguin officials are cautious about their chances of having four live births in Penguins' Rock. Though Paulie and Chaos were the least-likely parents because of their age and inexperience as parents, Ms. Graves said other birds may be caring for unfertilized eggs.
And even when the chicks hatch, there are still a number of challenges ahead including the baby's overall health and its curiosity down the road.
"It is still too early to tell how strong this chick is. And later on we wouldn't want that youngster wandering out of the nest too soon," said Dave Collins, the aquarium's curator of forests. "So we will remain vigilant and hope the parents remain as dutiful as they have been so far."
The birds' caretakers will only intervene if the chick falls ill or faces dangers from other birds. Otherwise, the bird will be raised right in front of aquarium guests.
IF YOU GO
There is a scant possibility of seeing the new baby penguin during the next two-week period, but other birds also are nesting. Tickets are $21.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages 3 to 12. The first admittance to the Aquarium is at 10 a.m. each day, with last admittance at 6 p.m.