South America Update – Dec 2017

Dear PenguinPromises

The eggs have finally hatched and there are now two baby penguin chicks in the
nest with Promises.. The hatching takes a lot longer than one would expect. The
egg doesn’t just pop open for the chick to get out. It is a long struggle.

First the egg starts to crack as the chick uses its beak to pick at the shell
from inside the egg. At this age the chick has a little spike on the upper tip
of its beak called the “egg tooth”, and this spike’s only purpose is to crack
the egg shell from inside the egg. After the chick hatches and starts to grow
the egg tooth disappears.

The chick pecks at the shell from inside the egg, until eventually it makes a
small hole in the shell. Once the chick has made a little ‘window’ in the shell,
Promises can see the chick inside, but the work has barely begun.

With the egg shell now cracked and weakened, the chick has to push as hard as
it can with its legs to try and break the shell open. The shell is brittle and
cracks easily, but there is a thin membrane inside the shell which stretches
and makes the shell harder to break open.

The chicks do not have much strength in their legs at this young age, so it is
a difficult task to get out of the egg. After a couple of minutes of pushing
the chick has to take a long rest and even sleep for a while to recover its strength.
It takes a couple of days for most chicks to finally break out of the egg, and
sometimes it can take up to 3 or 4 days.

All that time the chick calls to Promises and the adults can reply to the chick,
but Promises cannot help the chicks get out of the egg shell. The chicks are
very delicate, and adult penguins are large and clumsy. Penguins don’t have hands,
just a beak, and if they tried to open the egg with such a large clumsy beak
the chick could easily become injured. So the anxious parents just have to wait
for the chick to escape from the egg shell on its own.

The two eggs are laid about three or four days apart, and as a result one chick
usual hatches before the other. This results in one chick being slightly larger
than the other. Fortunately here food is in good supply, so the smaller chick
gets well fed and soon catches up with its sibling.

When they are larger and able to walk, the chicks squabble to get fed by Promises,
and the larger chick has an advantage in climbing over its sibling to get fed
first. However when there is plenty of food to go around even a large chick gives
up squabbling when its stomach is full, allowing the smaller chick to receive
an equal amount of food, albeit a few minutes later. With an equal amount of
food for both, the two chicks grow at a similar rate, and very soon the small
age difference is no longer noticeable.


At the moment the chicks are newly hatched, and so they are very small and weak,
just like a newly born human baby. The chicks are not able to walk yet, and the
parents have to carefully use their beaks to keep the chicks well tucked in beneath
their feathers where the chicks are warm and safe.

The chicks are too small and delicate to be disturbed by taking photos yet. Whilst
Promises is covering the chicks to protect them and keep them warm, it is impossible
for us to get photos of the chicks. The adults are very protective of their nest
at this time, and will attack anything that comes too close. Unfortunately the
chicks can get accidentally stood on by the adults if they become aggressive,
so we have to wait until the chicks are large enough to leave the protection
of Promises of their own accord.

Fortunately as we do our nest inspections we do come across the occasional nest
which has older chicks that are curious enough to stick their heads out for us
to get a photo. I attach a photo of just such a nest so that you can see what
the penguin chicks look like when they reach about 2 weeks of age.

When your chicks reach about 5 to 6 weeks of age they will then be large enough
to wander around outside the nest without hiding underneath Promises, and we
will be able to send you a nice photo of your chicks. Taking photos of two penguin
chicks together is not easy at the best of times. The penguins are never still
and getting both chicks still and facing the camera together requires patience
even when they are not hiding underneath Promises.

A lot of people ask us each year if they can adopt the chicks. I really wish
we could offer the chicks for adoption, but unfortunately the chicks are not
suitable for adoption. The reason is that the chicks leave the colony after just
two or three months, and most do not return to the colony until they are 5 years
old. So we would not able to send photos and reports of your chicks during those
5 years. It wouldn’t be much of an adoption waiting five years for an update.

This year the seawater around the colony has been much warmer than usual. It
is another El Niño year, which means a year of warm weather. El Niño years usually
occur about once every 4 years, but it is only 2 years since the last one. Global
warming is certainly affecting us in this region.

The warm seawater has affected our weather too. This year it has been very warm
here in the colony. Normally it is cold here even in summer, but this year it
has been very warm for the region with temperatures exceeding 20 degrees Celsius,
which is nice for us but too hot for the penguins. The sun is also very strong
here because of the lack of ozone, but the penguins do at least have a bit of
shade in the nest, and of course they can cool off when they go swimming out
at sea to catch food.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I attach a Christmas card from all of us
here in the colony.

Best wishes, Mike

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