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Penguins 1 – Skuas 0

CAPE ROYDS, ROSS ISLAND, ANTARCTICA– When Adélie Penguins adapted to live in the harsh environment of Antarctic they pretty much got this place to themselves. Nesting on the ground in other parts of the world is very risky for birds as this makes them extremely vulnerable to the numerous predators. In Antarctica there are not as many predators, but the one that discovered eating is easy in an Adélie penguin colony is the South Polar Skua.

South Polar Skua.

This large aggressive bird is an opportunist. When the seals haul out on the ice and give birth to their pups the Skuas hang around and eat the after birth. At McMurdo Research station they will wait for people to leave the dining hall with a sandwich or cookie in their hand and swoop down for the ‘kill.’ When it’s time for them to breed many build their nests at the edge of penguin colonies where first the penguin eggs then the chicks can be easy pickings among the penguin parents who are just beginning.

Skuas, tag teaming a penguin to get the egg.

Adult Adélie Penguins can defend themselves so are safe from Skua attack. However, while the penguins are nesting, and before the Skuas lay their own eggs, the Skuas work in pairs, one will fly overhead to distract the Adélie and the other will swoop in and snatch the egg or chick as the penguin stretches to peck at the decoy. Often times when I’ve been sitting watching this, I wish that the penguins would someday take revenge.

The Skuas often build their nest close to the Adélie breeding colony so they do not have to go far for their food. But in the following sets of pictures you can see this Skua was very bold, laying the egg within 10 feet of nesting Adélies. At first the Adélies would walk by with only passing interest in the nesting Skua but finally one penguin decided this was too close and challenged the Skua.

A Skua nest very close to a group of Adélie Penguins.

Some penguins would walk by without paying attention to the intruder.

First a challenge.

Then the Skua is evicted from the nest.

Every attempt by the Skua to return to its nest was thwarted by the penguin.

Finally the egg was lost to other Skuas.

Skuas are no match for adult Adélie penguins so the Skua moved off the egg. The penguin did not chase the Skua but stood at the nest and did not allow the Skua to return. Every attempt by the Skua to return to the egg was thwarted, and meanwhile the Skua egg was getting colder by the minute.

Skuas are indeed opportunist eaters. Even exposed Skua eggs are taken. This egg was no exception and once the penguin walked off, with in a few minutes another Skua made this egg its meal. The Skuas abandoned this nest site and will likely build one a much safer distance away next time. Penguins 1 – Skua 0.

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2 Responses »

  1. It would be interesting to see if this smarter penguin will have its higher intelligence gene expand into its population; that is, this behaviour increases over time its expression in the flock. This could certainly help the population survive change by better responding to it.

    Are there more predators exploiting penguins now than before?

    Good luck in your fascinating work. It is great to read of the various projects and the human interest stories attched to them.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. I love learning about the peniguns.They are so cool and a very smart breed too. I also am learning alot about the names of the penguins and the pictures are so very cool as it tells us all the details that I wouldn’t have thought about.Can’t wait to read maore about the penguins.
    Ann Mishmash