When spring is coming back to us up here in the north, and nature
wakes up to a new season,
times is upposite in the south, where autumn now is under way. The
days will be shorter, temperature decreases
and snowstorm are intensivating. Large parts of the seasurface changes
to an icecap.
Almost all the birds that has been here during the antarctic summer,
now find their way north.
Only on bird does the oppsite. It moves south, into the interior
of this cold place.
That is the Emperor Penguin, the largest, tallest and most beautiful
of all the penguins.
It is easily distinguished from the others by the yellow spot on
its neck and chest.
As many Emperor penguins now get closer to their breeding places,
they join in larger groups.
Like military columns they march together toward their goal, where
they reach in March and April.
However, it is still uncertain if male and female meets again since
last year, likewise the Adelie Penguins.
The eggs are being laid in May or June. The male starts taking care
of it, placing it between his feet.
The female soon looses interest, and leaves tghe place and joins
the other female penguins and start marching back into the sea.
That trip is often a bit longer than when they came into the breeding
place, as it is now winter, and also the coastwaters has
been covered with ice much longer out into the ocean.
Standing there on his feet, with the egg in between for nearly 2
months, while the female is away, often in temperature down
against minus 40 degrees and snowstorm with windforces up to 145
km/hour, it is not a very pleasant job.
Also, remember, in this long period the male is without any food!
Some times it happens that the female comes back after the chick
has been born. How to feed it then?
A remarkable thing about this penguin is that it is able to gulp
up something like milk, which it gives to the chicken.
That will help keeping it aliver for a few more days.
penguins dive beneath the dive holes at the Penguin Ranch in Antarctica.
Credit: Kathi Ponganis,
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD
So the female returns and they change place. Now the male goes to
sea and stay away for another few weeks.
Out in the ocean it feeds on krill and fish. But there is also the
leopard seal, and from time
to time the female or the male ends
up as food for a hungry predator. Then, when their partner does
not return, the end of the story often is that the chick
is abandoned, and the remaining partner has to leave also, to get
food soon again.
penguins breed in the heart of the Antarctic winter when temperatures
reach -60°C -- cold
enough to make human skin freeze and teeth crack. They waddle and
toboggan for up to 60km
across the frozen sea to reach their breeding colonies, where they
huddle tightly together to keep warm. After egg-laying, all the
females return to the ocean to feed, leaving each male carefully
single egg on his feet, warming it in a special pouch on his belly.
The male starves for up to 16 weeks
as he waits for hatching, through the endless night of the Antarctic
winter -- yet he still manages to feed
his newly hatched chick, using a special milk-like substance made
by the breakdown of his own body
tissue. But will his mate return in time to take over, before his
growing hunger forces him to
abandon the egg?