CAPE ROYDS, ANTARCTICA– Today the first eggs hatched here at Cape Royds, a few days later than the timing of this event last year.
The colony is eerily quiet. Seems like there should be some young birds beginning to show up to investigate the colony for future breeding. This usually begins to happen at about the start of egg hatching. It’s likely that the lack of any chick production for most of the past years, 2001 through 2005 (slight exception for 2003), is the main cause. Those were the years when the immense B-15 iceberg, and more directly the extensive sea ice that built up south of it, led to pretty much total breeding failure at Cape Royds. The ice was so extensive that the penguins essentially gave up in their breeding attempts; the fact that as many showed up as they did was amazing enough.
It was very windy in 2003, so the forces overcame the iceberg blockage and the reduced number of breeders at Royds did fairly well. Adélie penguins don’t visit their colonies until 2-3 years of age, and on average don’t begin to breed until 4-5 years old. Thus the lack of young birds present this year can be traced back to the lack of breeding success in 2001-05 (see the graphs below).
The lack of young birds present this season could still lead to repercussions for breeding success. Usually those young birds ward off the skuas, which are out to steal chicks from nests. It’s not that these penguins are protecting someone else’s chicks but just the very thought of a lurking skua is enough to excite any penguin who does not have to remain at his/her nest to protect eggs or chicks. Penguins hate skuas.