22 April 2017

Time-lapse cameras peek at penguins' winter behaviour

ANTARCTICA – Not even the most intrepid researcher wants to spend winter in Antarctica, so how can you learn what penguins are doing during those cold, dark months? Simple: Leave behind some cameras.

Time-lapse cameras recorded images of
gentoo penguins at their breeding sites in winter.
Photo credit: T Hart
Year-round studies across the full extent of a species' range are especially important in polar areas, where individuals within a single species may adopt a variety of different migration strategies to get by, and a new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances uses this unique approach to get new insights into gentoo penguin behaviour.

Gentoo penguins are of interest to scientists because they're increasing at the southern end of their range in the Western Antarctic Peninsula, a region where other penguin species are declining.

Little is known about their behaviour during the non-breeding season, so Caitlin Black and Tom Hart of the University of Oxford and Andrea Raya Rey of Argentina's Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Técnicas used time-lapse cameras to examine patterns in gentoo penguins' presence at breeding sites across their range during the off season.

17 April 2017

Penguin colony repeatedly decimated by volcanic eruptions

ANTARCTICA – One of the largest colonies of gentoo penguins in Antarctica was decimated by volcanic eruptions several times during the last 7,000 years according to a new study.

A gentoo penguin excreting guano
onto the snow near Potter Cove,
King George Island.
Photo credit: Steve Roberts
An international team of researchers, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), studied ancient penguin guano and found the colony came close to extinction several times due to ash fall from the nearby Deception Island volcano. Their results were published on 11 April in Nature Communications.

Ardley Island, near the Antarctic Peninsula, is currently home to a population of around 5,000 pairs of gentoo penguins. Using new chemical analyses of penguin guano extracted in sediment cores from a lake on the island, the researchers unraveled the history of the penguin colony.

18 March 2017

East Antarctica's Adelie penguin population more than double previous estimate

ANTARCTICA – Scientists have their best estimate yet of how many Adélie penguins live in East Antarctica, numbering almost six million, 3.6 million more than previously estimated.

The new research by a team of Australian, French and Japanese scientists used aerial and ground surveys, tagging and resighting data, and automated camera images over several breeding seasons.

The researchers focused on a 5000 kilometre stretch of coastline in East Antarctica, estimating 5.9 million birds and extrapolating that out to likely global estimate of 14–16 million birds.

17 March 2017

In times of plenty, penguin parents keep feeding their grown offspring

A fledged juvenile Galapagos penguin.
Photo credit: Dee Boersma/Galapagos National Park
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS – Humans are not alone in continuing to support offspring who have “left the nest”. It happens in Galapagos penguins, too.

In a paper published online in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, a research team led by University of Washington biology professor Dee Boersma reported that fully grown Galapagos penguins who have fledged – or left the nest – continue to beg their parents for food. And sometimes, probably when the bounty of the sea is plentiful, parents oblige and feed their adult offspring.

“Through field seasons over the years when we were observing penguin behavior in the Galapagos Islands, we saw these isolated instances of adults feeding individuals who had obviously fledged and left the nest,” said Boersma.

“And now we’ve collected enough field observations to say that post-fledging parental care is a normal – though probably rare – part of Galapagos penguin behavior.”

12 March 2017

Penguin hospital saves five percent of yellow-eyed population

NEW ZEALAND – The penguin hospital at Otago Polytechnic’s School of Veterinary Nursing has had 24 yellow-eyed penguins through in the last six weeks.

With only 250 breeding pairs in the wild this year, that means that wildlife vet Lisa Argilla has saved five percent of the breeding population.

“Yellow-eyed penguins are one of the rarest penguins in the world, and are unique to New Zealand.  If we don’t look after them now, they will die out” Dr Argilla said.

27 February 2017

Giant penguin fossil shows penguins may have lived with dinosaurs

NEW ZEALAND – The recent discovery of an approximately 61-million-year-old giant penguin fossil has lead scientists to suggest that penguin evolution started much earlier than previously thought – probably during the age of dinosaurs.

The fossil and its implications are described by Dr Gerald Mayr from Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany and colleagues from Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the journal The Science of Nature.

26 February 2017

New guidance on hand-rearing decisions for endangered penguin chicks

African penguin chicks. Photo credit: SANCCOB.
SOUTH AFRICA – Researchers have developed a model to provide guidance on the likelihood of abandoned African penguin chicks surviving after they are admitted to rehabilitation.

Developed by researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter and Cape Town, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and Bristol Zoological Society, it is the first model of its kind.

The use of rehabilitation for conservation is growing worldwide, with many research papers monitoring the success of individuals after their release. Rearing chicks that are unlikely to survive naturally could significantly contribute to the conservation of threatened bird species such as the African penguin.