We all know this iconic scene from the absolute classic that is Mary Poppins, and I think this where my interest in Antarctica’s most famous residents came from.
The emperor penguin is the largest species of penguin and one of the largest living birds on Earth, only being found in Antarctica. This marvellous bird is flightless like all other penguins, but truly flies underwater, being perfectly adapted for it with their streamlined bodies, large chests and flipper like wings.
These bird’s diets consist primarily of fish, but they will eat crustaceans and squid. In hunting, the penguins can remain submerged up to 18 minutes, diving to a depth of 1,755 ft!
These birds have an incredible courtship ritual. They trek for miles to breeding colonies which can include thousands of individuals. A lone male with gives an ecstatic display, lowering its head and then gives a courtship call that lasts for about 2 seconds. It will constantly do this and move around until it comes to a female that mirrors its posture of extending its head and neck up. They will then waddle around together before they copulate where both birds bow to each other.
These remarkable birds remain faithful to each other during courtship and have been known to mate for life. However, their mating season is slim and so remaining faithful to last year’s partner is not as major a priority as producing another egg. Both parents play an active role in child upbringing. Once the egg is layered, the father incubates the egg, whilst the mother returns to the sea to hunt and gain her strength back. As the following clip from Happy Feet accurately shows.
Once the egg is hatched parents take turns foraging at sea and caring for the chick in the colony. The babies are born looking far duller in colour than their parents, but their baby feathers are also adapted for the cold.
These cute babies are incredibly vulnerable and easy pickings for many Antarctic predators. Southern giant petrels are the predominant predator of chicks.
Adult penguins don’t have to worry about petrels, their two predators are far bigger and more dangerous. Both creatures that hunt them are mammals and are truly masters at hunting these birds.
The leopard seal:
The second largest species of seal in the Antarctic (after the southern elephant seal), the leopard seal is a vicious predator, with powerful jaws and excellent swimming adaptations, that will actively attack anything it deems food. It’s main prey being penguins, leopard seals are the second most dangerous hunter in the Antarctic, the other also choosing penguin as a meal. See below to get a true sense of these seals prowess.
The killer whale:
The orca, or killer whale as it is otherwise known, is a master of the sea and the top predator of the Antarctic. It has an extremely diverse diet due to the fact that it can be found all over the globe, from the Antarctic to Australia. They are apex predators and are unchallenged by any other marine animal, even being known to take down adult whales and sharks. They are also extremely intelligent and have adapted many different hunting techniques to deal with different prey.
Anyway, back to the star of this post. The emperor penguin is a powerful animal in its own right and a skilled hunter of fish.
These fantastic birds battle against the cold and still thrive despite being the choice prey for two extremely dangerous and skilled hunters. They have earnt my respect and I hope have earnt yours as well. I hope you enjoyed my post about them, but if you wish to learn more about these birds, I found that Happy Feet was extremely accurate in many ways in portraying these birds, their lives and our relationship with them.