The Penguin and the Human

The Magellanic Penguin is one of the smallest of its kind, with a height of 44 cm and a weight of 4 kg. Their live expectancy is about 15 years, and during the reproduction period they daily swim up to 50 kilometers from the coast in search  of food which thye obtain diving as deep as 80 meters. They feed on sardines, mackerel, squid, hake, sea bass and octopus.

The first sailors who came to the coast of South America in the 16th century described the penguins as “ducks with atrophied wings that nested the ground in large colonies”. The sailors found in this bird a huge source of food; the penguins couldn’t run away from the hunter therefore those people could get dozen of them in a very short time plus steal all their eggs to fill the pantries of the boats.

Later and also nowadays, due to the massive fox and puma hunting (carry out only by the personal interest of humans, as these carnivores eat their cattle) the penguins have ceased to have a natural predator and so have established large colonies, such as the Punta Tombo penguin colony and Cabo Vírgenes in Argentina.

These beautiful birds have a well-marked biological cycle:

  1. September: the couples arrive to the colonies and the males begin the construction of the nests.
  2. October: The courting, copulation and laying of eggs take place
  3. November: the adults take turns hatching the eggs and going on search of food at sea.
  4. December: the chicks are born and both parents feed them regurgitating food already digested
  5. January: parents take turns to feed and protect the chicks
  6. February: The pigeons need more food, it force both parents to leave the nest and go out in search of food
  7. March: chicks begin to leave the nest and meet or gather with each other chicks in gorups. At the end of the same month they leave their parents and get into the sea.
  8. April: with the chicks out of the colony adults come to their annual moult of feathers.
  9. May to August: all the penguins migrate north following the cold Malvinas Colony. They live and feed in the high sea.

For courtship, penguins move their heads and move rhythmically following each other in circles and emitting sounds very similar to the braying of donkeys.

The laying of the eggs is carried out with less than a week apart between one egg and the other, and during 40 days both members of the couple take turns to incubate them an also to go to the sea search of food.  At this moment, when one of the pair leave the nest, is when you can see fights to preserve the nest and even the couple.

At the end of January the chicks are almost as big as the parent, but their grayish plumage is still not waterproof, so they cannot get into the sea in search of food, and they remain dependent on their parents, waiting for his plumage to take the black-and-white color that is characteristic of the species.

This is when the chicks need more food, which means that both parents have to go out to the sea. In order not to leave the chicks alone, parents grouped with others, forming what is known as “nursery”, where only a few adults take care of all the small. When parents return to the coast they have to recognize their pigeons, how do they do it? by means of vocalizations and different sounds.

Already with a proper plumage chicks make their first forays into the sea, while the parents start changing their feathers in order to be able to cope with the low temperatures of the waters.

With the arrival of autumn the whole colony get ready to spend the winter in the sea, searching for food in the edge of the continental shelf, performing a migration toward the north and arriving to the latitude of southern Brazil.

During this time the penguins have to cope with the action of man; the massive food poisoning by hydrocarbons, oil spills, liquid from the cleaning of ships, massive fishing and a bunch of other things.

In order not to damage the species it is important to maintain or keep a distance from them, especially when they are in the breeding season, otherwise the human satisfaction to get too close to them can scare them, forcing the parents to leave the nests trying to run away from us, leaving their own unprotected and entering the other couples nest by mistake, which will result in fights or the trampling of eggs.

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