Tag Archives: Penguins

Penguin Highways

Penguin highways are an important part of penguin transportation. When they first get ashore, they seek out rocky spots but snow can sometimes get in the way. Snow can be a couple feet high if not more in certain areas. The penguins will march across certain areas until they compress down, creating distinct penguin highways, areas that are carved out by the weight and movement over the area. These allow easy access between their nesting places and the water.

Penguins will also toboggan across the snow because, as I mentioned in another penguin post, they don’t do so well on land… They do have claws to provide extra traction over the snow and rocks though.

As a visitor, it is important to not step in these as the penguins have worked hard to create these highways.

Rock Stealing!

As I mentioned in my penguin post, penguins frequently steal rocks to build up their own nest, even though other penguins take from theirs as they roam.

The best way to watch penguins is to just find a spot and sit. They are fascinating to watch.



Upon presenting the rock, penguins will bow to their partner, reaffirming their commitment to each other. If the egg is not being warmed, both will bow. Penguins share all duties relating to child bearing equally

Penguin Predators

Being both land and sea animals, penguins face a variety of predators.

On land, Skuas (remember them, the rodents of Antarctica), Kelp Gulls, and Snowy Sheathbills threaten the penguins by carrying off the eggs or the young. Part of the reason we, as visitors to Antarctica, have to stay far enough away from the penguins is so that they don’t get distracted by our presence and lose an egg to a skua.

Leopard seals are threats in the sea. They have a great big mouth and rip apart anything smaller than them. They play with the penguins while chasing them, trying to turn them inside out. For more on seals, visit this post.

In these photos, we were lucky to come upon a leopard seal ripping apart something that wasn’t a penguin. We speculated that it was a Crabeater seal pup. The rib cage is evident. A penguin would float but in this case the leopard seal had to keep diving down to bring the carcass up.

All penguins are protected from hunting and egg collection on Antarctica so humans (theoretically) are not a threat to them.

Guano aka Penguin Poop

Guano is the name of poop for seabirds and bats.

The penguin poop has a reddish tint, probably due to the krill that the penguins ate.

Watching the penguins poop was probably the cutest thing about the whole trip. They would stand up, pop their bottom out, squirt it all out, then shake their tail feathers in celebration of their great feat.

They didn’t care where their guano went, as a result many penguins had streaks on their back or pink on their usually white chest. The clean ones had been on a swim recently.


A sea fowl of the Southern Hemisphere with wings represented by scaly paddles with which it swims underwater -Oxford Dictionary

The penguin body and its torpedo shape is perfect for water, not so much for the shore. Their flat wings work for paddling and they have heavy bones, otherwise they would float.


Seabirds preen for about 70 percent of the day. This is an important activity as it keeps their feathers aligned and waterproof. Only their beak and feet have contact with the water.

In their butt is an oil gland. They will shake their butt a little to have the oil leak out and then will take some of this and spread it to the rest of their body.

Molting is when their feathers change out after breeding. The penguins prepare for this by eating a lot beforehand as they can’t swim during this time. It’s a miserable time and lasts for 3-4 weeks.

Underwater, the penguins are really hard to catch. Their feet provide the steering. Emperor penguins (who I did not see) can go up to 6-7 mph in the water. They can also dive 1,755 feet for about 22 minutes under water. Comparatively Chinstrap penguins can dive about 230 feet, being down about 7 minutes.

The femurs are fused with their hips, providing that characteristic waddle. The flipper bones are also fused and are quite dense meaning it hurts when they smack each other.

Penguins breed with the same partner their entire life, going ashore and waiting for their mate to show up. They select a nice rocky spot for their nest. Only the Emperor penguins hold an egg on their feet.

Males tend to arrive first, 2-3 days to a week before the female. If she doesn’t show up, he will find a new partner.

One of the most fascinating aspects of watching the penguins, is seeing the rock stealing. As they steal from another nest, someone else steals from theirs. The pebbles provide an excellent drainage system in the rain and snow.

Most penguins lay 2 eggs with a 32 day incubation (3.5 months for Emperors). They use their body heat to keep the egg warm. There is a split in their feathers to allow the skin to egg contact.P1050497.JPGP1050524.JPG

Both parents feed once the chick is born. Chicks will even group together while parents are gone. An adult penguin who didn’t breed may also look after them.P1050921.JPGP1050822.JPG