The Last Task of the Season
CAPE ROYDS, ROSS ISLAND, ANTARCTICA– The Adélie Penguin breeding season in Antarctica is short. By late January it is time for everyone to leave including the penguins. Before our team departs our last task is to band the chicks. We select the biggest and most mature chicks in the hopes they will survive their first winter on the ice. It is rare to see one year olds — we will have to wait two or even three years before seeing the chicks we band today. This year the chicks are in good shape: big, strong and heavy.
Catching them means we use a corral to surround the crèche and then move in hopefully herding them into the pen. Stepping inside the pen, we sort out any adults that were caught by mistake, then the smaller chicks we will not band. Now the work begins. Catch a chick, hold it between your legs, place the hard metal band around its wing and press it closed. It is very important to make sure the ends of the band are flush and together otherwise the band may interfere with the swimming ability of the bird.
We now say good by to these chicks, leave them alone to finish their molting and find their way to the open ocean and food. Many of the adults have already left, these chicks are on their own.
It’s hard for us to say goodbye. The pile of equipment is the last load of the season. Our amazing helitech solves the puzzle, and still there is room for all five of us. We are covered in penguin guano, feathers and dirt after a day of banding, but feel good as this last task of the research project brings this season to an end.