I'm going to show a big personal preference - adelie penguins are my favorite penguins, but far! I've had the enormous privalge of being abe to watch adelie penguins in their complete life cycle. I've been able to sit with them and watch them and just enjoy being with them. I don't think I would ever get bored watching their antics, and miss this opportunity very much. Many people have experienced this pleasure, and there must be something to it. Adelies are different. We somehow see ourselves relected in their lives, especially when we also try and endure living in Antarcitca. They are special, and I hope everyone gets a chance to meet an adelie, even if only briefly. My life was enrich greatly by them, and I am very thankful for the this.
Casey station situated on the coast amongst the Windmill Islands is surrounded by Adelie penguins colonies. The nearest is on Shirley Island which is an easy walk from the station and accessible almost year round due to fairly solid ice in the narrow channel between the coast and the island.
The photos in the galleries were taken between 1995 and 1997 in the Windmill Islands, many on Shirley Island. They roughly show the life cycle of Adelie penguins from coming in from sea to clear snow filled nests when there is still significant sea ice, mating, laying eggs, guarding nests, feeding, more feeding, molting, and finally a young healthy penguin. Sometimes they don't make it. Getting into the water is hazardous, and leopard seals are always in wait. Skuas are always waiting for young birds to stray from nests.
The series of photos finish with a photo of the last pair of birds in a rookery on Shirley Island. The first photo was taken in 95/96. I eagerly awaited the arrival of the birds the following year, but they did not return.
The birds on Shirley Island are heavily studied because of their proximity to Casey Station. The people who live at Casey are extremely careful to not disturb these penguins when they go to visit them. However scientist conducting studies (Diet of Adelie Penguins at Shirley Island) do interact with the birds and the constant visitors obviously affect the birds.
The pair of Adelies that nested at rookery 14 were fairly close the the main path leading onto the island from Casey. One might think this is what caused their decline. However 2 other rookeries are much more exposed to visitors arriving, and they have actually expanded. There are many fossil rookeries around the Windmill Islands where factors such as seas level changes have resulted in the birds moving to different locations. But then there are rookeries which are now way way above seas level because the birds have refused to let a little climb (that leaves me gasping) get in their way.
Who knows the mind of a penguin. It is wonderful to be able to sit and watch them and wonder what they are thinking. After you quickly scan these photos go back to one of a rookery and look at it carefully. Block out the hum of your computer and the voices of people around you. Feel cold air on your face, smell the guano, hear the lap of water under ice stuck to the shore, and most of all hear the constant chatter of these wonderful birds as they squabble over their rocks, and the beautiful call of birds returning to great their mate.
Size: about 60cm to 70cm (24-28 inches) tall
Weight: about 4.5kg (11 pounds)
Lifespan: 20 Years
Range and Population
Common around the entire coastline of Antarctica, and near by islands. There is thought to be over 2 million breeding pairs of adelie penguins. While the population seems stable their heavy reliance on krill as a food source makes them vulnerable to depletion of krill through either fishing or climate change.
Adelie penguins make nests from small pebbles, for which their is fierce competition to collect, and pebble stealing is a favorite pass time. Two eggs are usual laid around November with hatching occurring after about 35 days. While it is common for both eggs to hatch, one chick will almost always out compete the other for survival. During egg incubation and the first few weeks after hacthing the parent birds take turns at the nest and feeding, leaving for up to 10 days to feed. After 3 or 4 weeks the chicks have grown sufficiently to form creches with other chicks allowing both parents to feed the quickly growing chick. During the creche period the chicks develop of thick grayish brown down. In February through March the young chicks fledge their down and get their adult plumage before adults and chicks return to the sea in late March for the Antarctic winter.
Food and Predators
Adelie penguins eat small fish and krill.
The main predator of adelie penguins is the leopard seal which often hunt around colonies trying to trick or startle penguins into the water. Chicks are under constant threat from skuas which are always on the look out for young chicks that are left unattended or become separated from their nest.
Where to See Adelie Penguins
It is possible to see adelie penguins in the wild. Numerous ship based tour companies do trips to sub-antarctic islands. Visit the Tourism Page for details.
Seeing adelie penguins in the wild is not a cheap or practical option for most people. Luckily there are a few zoos and aquariums with adelie penguins which makes them more accessible.