Posted on 13/02/2020 by Phillip Island Nature Parks
The secrets to penguin breeding success
Phillip Island Nature Parks researchers are reporting another breeding bonanza in the Summerland Peninsula penguin colony, with plenty of healthy penguin chicks getting rid of the last of their fluffy down and making their way out to sea.
Thousands of chicks have fledged this year from this once-threatened colony of Little penguins, now strong at 30,000 individuals. This is a fantastic result, but according to researchers, it is not just about quantity – quality is even more critical.
“The weight of the penguin chicks is such an important factor in their survival,” says Dr Andre Chiaradia, Phillip Island Nature Parks Research Scientist. “Their weight during the first 33 days of their life will dictate their survival in the first year, so the pressure is really on parents to make sure the chicks get plenty to eat.”
Penguin chicks grow up quickly and reach peak mass at around six weeks old, typically weighing in at an average of 600 grams, compared with an adult penguin’s weight of around 1kg. A standard meal brought home by the parents after a day of fishing out at sea weighs around 200 grams, equivalent to one-third of the chick’s weight.
“Imagine a 90kg human eating a 30kg meal – every day! Penguin chicks do digest their meals very quickly, and with that much food inside them, it is no surprise they have to poo pretty often, producing around 6g of projectile poo each time. And it doesn’t smell too nice either.”
Typically, once chicks have reached their peak mass at six weeks, they will then lose about 10% of their body mass before fledging at around the eight week mark, which is why their starting weight is so important.
This year some of the chicks have been massive, weighing in at up to a whopping 1.5kg. While this is an extreme example, overall the chick weights this season have been higher than during previous seasons, which is an excellent sign.
“In a colony of this size, it is a reality that not all of the chicks are going to make it to adulthood once they’ve fledged, but the better hunters will survive and keep the colony strong. They are at their most vulnerable in the first few weeks out at sea, as they are solitary hunters, and they don’t get any fishing lessons from their parents.”
The beach-washed chicks will sometimes appear in small groups as the ocean currents tend to ‘gather’ them and bring them to shore.
The Nature Parks would like to hear from the local community, and the general public with reports of any penguins washed up on the island’s beaches, or further afield around Victoria’s coastline. Please visit www.penguins.org.au/beachwashedbirds to submit your findings and support one of the world’s longest continuous seabird study.
“Having healthy chicks is the ultimate measure of success of any penguin breeding season, and the chicks this year have been healthy and above-average weight, so we’re stoked at the prospect of Phillip Island’s colony of Little Penguins growing even stronger.”
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