9 December, 1996
I'd like to share a few pictures with Paces Penguin Patrol, a group of third graders from Forbes School in Torrington. They are interested in learning more about the strange birds that live around the continent. As often as I get to see penguins, I still enjoy interrupting work to kneel down to watch them. If I'm very still, they will walk over to me to see what I'm doing. They are very curious and have no fear of humans. Their only predators are in the water, they must feel safe when they are on land. I've encountered two species, the Adelie and the Emperor. One of our experiments is near an Adelie rookery. When we first started going there, they were in the process of building nests. The males would collect small pebbles and arrange them for a shelter where two eggs would be laid. Occasionally one bird would steal a pebble from another nest, a loud skirmish would break out and occasionally a serious fight would ensue. Yesterday I noticed that all the eggs seemed to have been laid and the birds were quietly incubating them. The population of the colony had drastically changed. Half of the penguins, the females, had returned to the ocean to feed. The males will have to wait for several weeks until their partners return to assume the brooding duties.
One the way back to McMurdo, we came upon a lone Emperor about twenty miles from the ice edge. It was walking south, away from its source of food. The Emperors have a different season for breading. Their eggs are laid in May or June, early winter in Antarctica. The males will shelter a single egg for 60 to 65 days at a time when the temperatures reach as low as seventy degrees below zero. If they were to leave, the eggs would freeze. They must spend that time without eating! It doesn't sound like a fun way to spend the winter, however, there are no predators to steal the eggs. This strange behavior helps to ensure the survival of the species.
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