Gentoos are the second largest penguin species and are recognisable by the white stripe extending across the top of their heads like a bonnet. They breed in large colonies which can be situated a kilometre or more inland. Each morning the penguins make the long journey down to the sea where they eat fish and crustaceans. In the afternoon they return to the colony to feed their chicks.
LEFT: Gentoo penguin parent flaps its flippers and brays, so its offspring can identify itself with the parent and obtain a feed.
Breeding Time and Nesting
January is breeding time for the gentoos and many youngsters in advanced stages of growth continually chase one another and their mothers around the colony braying and squawking in an attempt to receive additional food. During this cat and mouse chase the personal space of other individuals is breeched enlisting further ruckus as verbal protests are made.
LEFT: Gentoo penguin rests on egg from a nest made from sand, beach debris and small stones.
Life can be tough as a gentoo youngster and on several occasions I witnessed skuas diving on the colony in an attempt to separate a youngest from its mother. Once separated, the skua would capture the fledgling in its strong beak and carry it away from the colony to provide food for its own young. Witnessing events such as this is when you realize that when we (humans) make a mistake more than often we learn from the event, however, when wildlife make a mistake they often loose their life. As such, evolution ensues that only the strongest and most resourceful animals survive to pass along genes to the next generation.
Gentoo penguins make a small nest surrounded by stones and lined with whatever material can be found. Stone stealing amongst mothers is common place and its amusing to watch one parent steal a stone for its nest only to return from another stone steeling mission to find that the original owner has stolen the stone back for its own nest. Stone exchanges can go on for hours. Once a gentoo has enough stones it will lay its egg within the stone arrangement and incubate the egg by lying on top of the egg. After birth, the youngster will be protected within the stone circle by its mother and only be left unattended when the mother penguin goes to sea to capture food for the youngster.
Watching the gentoo penguins surf in to land on the beach is a sight that needs to be seen to be fully comprehended. Penguins, fresh from fishing, group together outside the breakers for their amphibious beach landing. They group together mainly for protection as other animals such as sea lions, elephant seals, killer whales and leopard seals patrol the outside breakers searching for penguins on which to feed.
ABOVE: Gentoo penguin breaches the surf, stands and walks toward dryer sand.
By grouping together the penguins hope to confuse any potential predator by sheer numbers, speed and agility. Eventually, a penguin will make a move toward the beach and the group will follow, porpoise through the swells and surf until reaching the sand. Here they will stand and make their way out of the water to briefly preen before moving up onto the dry sand.
Gentoos are smaller in size than king penguins, however, this lack of superior size is outclassed by their agility, raucous behaviour and shear numbers of individuals within a colony.