by Ellen Lambeth; photos by Chris Linder/Chrislinder.com
Looks like "Summer Fun at Pebble Beach" for these Adélie penguins--never mind the icebergs!
Sure, it's icy out here. That probably doesn't seem too surprising at first. After all, it is December. And if you live in the United States, that's winter for you. But at the bottom of the world, the seasons are the opposite: In Antarctica, (see map above right), it's summertime now.
Earlier, during the Antarctic winter, the land was completely ice-covered. Even the water's surface was frozen for many miles out to sea. These Adélie (uh-DAY-lee) penguins were at the outer edges of this sea ice, feeding on fish, squid, and tiny shirmplike creatures called krill.
As winter changed to spring, the days grew longer and longer, and the sea ice began to melt. But even in the middle of summer here, the ice and snow never go completely away. They melt just enough to expose some of Antarctica's rocky shoreline.
That's the perfect place for Adélies to build their nests, because they don't have so far to go to find food.
Summertime is also a good time for scientists to come get a close-up look at these birds. Now you can see what the scientists see. Check out some of the action below!
How Do You Do?
Like most penguins, Adélies are black and white. An average one stands about two feet tall and is easily recognized by the white rings around its eyes. These penguins were named after the wife of a French naval officer who explored Antarctica in the 1800s.
Wanna Trade Places?
After mating, Adélie parents take turns keeping their eggs warm. The nest is just a mound of piled-up pebbles. But each pebble was selected (sometimes stolen from another nest) and placed with great care. The added boost off the ground keeps the eggs high and dry as ice continues to melt.
This big seabird, called a skua (SKYOO-uh), is no match for a grown penguin (top right). But it may try to snatch an egg or chick left out in the open. Skuas can be patient and clever at ganging up on parent penguins. One may tease an Adélie away, while another zooms in to scoop up the prize.
What's for Supper?
Each penguin pair usually raises two chicks and guards them closely. While one parent stays at the nest, the other heads to the sea for food. After a couple of days, they switch places. Here, a fuzzy chick begs to be fed (above right). Soon the parent will throw up a gloppy seafood meal for it. Ewww!
What's up with the gate (top left)? It's where each parent penguin gets weighed as it's going out to sea and again when it returns from gathering food. The difference in weight tells how well the penguin is eating--and feeding its growing chicks.
How does it work? Scientists built a fence around a small group of the birds. Each penguin automatically steps on a scale as it passes through the gate. Sensors there make a record of the weight and tell if the bird is coming or going. A scanner at the gate also "reads" a tiny microchip placed under the bird's skin. That tells the scientsts which penguin is which.
This scene (above left) probably isn't your idea of a vacation hot spot. After all, it's the middle of nowhere in the coldest place on Earth. But it's good enough for Adélies, so it will have to do for the scientists who study them. The tiny hut is where they live and work from November to January. The tent is for sleeping. A nice, hot bath? Forget it!
A Penguin Christmas
What do you do when you're away from family and friends during the holidays? You do the best you can! One thoughtful scientist brought penguin stockings stuffed with chocolate penguins for her fellow scientists (top right). The team also misses Thanksgiving and New Year's, so every little treat is a treasure!
That's Using Your Head!
You may have heard of "pigs in a blanket." But have you ever heard of "chicks in a hat"? As it turns out, a fleece-lined cap makes a perfect Snuggie for a pair of penguin chicks (above right). It keeps them warm while the scientist checks them over. Wanna bet she hopes they're hat trained?
Once in hand, a chick can give a scientist clues about how well it's growing. Here, the baby bird's flipper is getting measured (top left). The scientist also keeps track of the growing bird's weight.
Before long, the chick will be safe and sound, back in its nest. Getting it away from protective parents was the hard part. A full-grown Adélie can poke holes in flesh with its bill and cause bruises to appear with a whack of its flipper.
Scientists get extra information when certain Adélies go out to sea for food. How? From electronic tags they stick to these birds' backs. One sends satellite signals telling exactly where each bird goes. Another tells how long each penguin stays underwater and how deep it dives. When the birds return to their nests, the scientists remove the tags.
The more information the scientists gather, the better they'll understand Adélie penguins--and their Antarctic home. So let's hear it for the Adélies, and for the special people who give up their holidays to study them!
This penguin science research and photography are made possible by the National Science Foundation.
Rangers: When it's winter in the United States, it's summer in Antarctica: time for penguins to come ashore and raise their families!
You can keep track of nesting Adélie penguins and their chicks from mid-November to mid-January. Just visit penguinscience.com and click on the "Penguin Cam" tab.
Also ask your teacher to click on the "Education" tab to find much more penguin science for your classroom. --Ranger Rick