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Chinstrap penguins
Pygoscelis antarctica

Estimated population: 5 million breeding pairs
Breeding Season: December - March
Distribution: Sub Antarctic and Antarctic islands, Antarctic Peninsula.
Height: 68cm - 27 inches
Weight: 4.5kg - 10lb
Facts: Antarctica Animals | Antarctic penguin fact file | Adélie penguins | Chinstrap penguins | Emperor penguins | Gentoo penguins | King penguins | Antarctic Animal Adaptations | Krill | How penguins survive the cold | Animals and the cold | Weddell Seals | Antarctic Fur Seal | Southern Elephant Seal | Other birds | Albatross | Snow Petrel | Whales
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1/ What are chinstrap penguins like?

4/ How much do young penguins eat?

2/ Does snowfall like this cause hardships for the young? 5/ Why is this penguin so pale?
3/  Is this really the nest the penguins use?
1/ What are chinstrap penguins like?
Called Chinstrap penguins because of their characteristic band of dark feathers under the chin that appears to be keeping their dark hats on, these are the smallest of three species of Pygoscelis penguins.  

They average about 4.5kg and 68cm tall. According to the books they are particularly noisy and aggressive, infiltrating and taking over Adélie colonies, though from what I saw of them I would put them behind Adélies in aggression and volume.

This picture was taken in a chinstrap colony during a spring snow-fall, most of the penguins had eggs and many had chicks so the adults on the nests had to play the parental role to the full protecting the young from the cold by laying down, and occasionally getting up to shake off the accumulated snow.  

It stopped snowing shortly after this and the temperature being just above freezing, the snow melted fairly quickly and so posed little or no danger to the young on this occasion.

 

2/ Does snowfall like this cause hardships for the young?
After the snow had finished the penguins stood up and shook themselves, the chicks that had been sheltering under the parents were well and seem to be resenting the fact that mum or dad had stood up and weren't keeping them quite so snug any more!

This parent is awaiting the return of its partner who will have been out at sea fishing for the krill that these penguins feed almost exclusively on, catching it  further inshore than other penguin species. The parent that goes fishing fills themselves up on food and then collects extra in their stomach to bring back and regurgitate for the chicks.

 

3/  Is this really the nest the penguins use?
Chinstraps along with many other species of penguins return to the same colony each year and often settle within a very short distance of the same nest site.  

The nest is a very simple affair of a pile of small stones, the main purpose being to separate it from other nests and to raise it above the surrounding ground so that melt-water from snow doesn't wet the eggs or chicks.  

Small stones are in short supply in the penguin colonies and so squabbles are commonplace and frequent, particularly as penguins are experienced kleptomaniacs taking nesting material from any other nest that is inadequately guarded.

These two chinstrap chicks are blissfully unaware of the dramas that await them in the not too distant future.

 

4/ How much do young penguins eat?
Waiting patiently for their next meal. Chinstrap chicks get fed about once a day on average, with the returning parent bringing back about 300g of krill.  

Fishing trips take the adults around 20-30 kilometres from the colony, though distances of well over 200 kilometres have been recorded. The young remain on the nest, looked after in turns by each parent until they are large enough to maintain their own body temperature and can wander around freely.  

At this point they form a "crèche" with other chinstrap penguin chicks, huddling together for protection against the worst of the weather and predators. It also leaves both parents free to go fishing so increasing the food supply for the rapidly growing chicks.

 

5/ Why is this penguin so pale?
Some species are prone to producing occasional individuals like this, known as "leuchistic" forms or sometimes as "blonde" penguins.

Not albinos as they do have pigment, but not as much as the more normal members of the species. These penguins would always hang around the breeding grounds with others of their species, though I never saw one that had any success in breeding - incubating eggs, building a nest etc. Maybe they were just a little too different for the other penguins.

I was looking through your penguin pics and noticed your comment about leuchistic penguins not breeding. So I thought you might be interested in the attached pic (right) of a leuchistic Adelie penguin with a chick. I took the pic in 1963 on Avian Island (off Adelaide Island). Mike Fleet

While I saw several leuchistic chinstraps on Signy I don't recall having seen a leuchistic Adelie, maybe the result of different gene pools. Paul Ward


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