Image courtesy of Jean Pennycook

From: Jean Pennycook
Cape Royds, Antarctica, January 7, 2008

Penguins Fight Back

The South Polar Skua scratch a small patch of land and lay their brown spotted eggs on the ground, frequently very close to breeding Adelie Penguins. Skuas are ever-present predator of penguin breeding colonies (See the December 14 Postcard). Penguin nests are easy pickins' for these aggressive birds, and countless Adelie penguin eggs and chicks are lost every year. Penguins do not eat Skua eggs or chicks so the Skuas have no predators. Watching the one-sided attack and so many penguin losses every day I wonder why the penguins don't walk over to the Skua nests and thrash them just for revenge, but that is my human mind thinking and not how the penguins think.

However, on this day, I witnessed a drama that made me smile. A group of three young non-breeders from the penguin colony came across a Skua nest and attacked the adult. Skuas never leave their nests because the cold and wind would kill or blow their eggs away very quickly. The Skua made many attempts to get back to the nest. The bird made least 6 aerial swoops, and each time she was fended off by the penguins. Finally the Skua went behind the penguins, landed, and slowly tried to walk into her nest. From afar I was yelling "turn around, turn around," to the penguins. The Skua almost made it until the penguins saw her and chased her away yet again. This drama continued for several more attempts. Score ONE for the penguins!

For more about Adelie Penguins visit Penguin Science.

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Postcards from the Field: Adelie Penguins 2007

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