Sunday
Oct192014

Travel to the Massive Penguin Colonies of Antarctica

Antarctica Emperor Penguins

An Antarctic cruise and luxury safari is the opportunity of a lifetime to explore one of the world’s last unspoiled frontiers. There is a broad range of amazing wildlife in this frigid environment. Throughout the journey, the panoramic views will reveal various species thriving in their native habitat. One of the most sought after animals of Antarctica is the penguin. Of the world’s 17 penguin species, six have adapted to the continent’s frigid ecosystem.

 

Emperor Penguin

The largest penguin, the Emperor, stands almost 4 feet tall. Although these colorful birds comprise the smallest segment of the overall penguin population, breeding colonies can number in excess of 100,000. As winter approaches, Emperors move inland to breed in traditional locations. Previous mates locate each other through bugle-like calls. Upon discovering each other, they bow and display the unique orange patches on the side of their heads. Although their breeding process is one of the most arduous for all penguins, over 75 percent of couples successfully raise offspring.

 

Adélie Penguins

Named after the wife of English adventurer Dumont d’Urville, Adélie penguins are small birds that weigh approximately 10 pounds and stand slightly more than 2 feet tall. During the summer months, they congregate in rookeries than can encompass up to hundreds of thousands of birds. As winter approaches, they travel closer to the edge of the ice shelf where the temperatures are warmer. Males attempt to reclaim former nesting spots and present pebbles as gifts to their mate. Adélies can lose up to 45 percent of their body weight during the entire breeding process. Once the chicks are able to go to sea and feed, the breeding colony is abandoned.

Rockhoppers Penguins

Rockhoppers are the smallest of Antarctica’s penguin species standing slightly more than 20 inches tall. Featuring a spiky black and yellow-feathered crest on the top of their heads, they roost among the rocky slopes of the islands bordering the Antarctic Convergence. Their breeding colonies, which congregate in the same location each year, can number in the hundreds of thousands. Although they comprise the largest segment of penguins, their population is declining rapidly due to overfishing, which reduces their food supply. As a result, Rockhopper penguins are listed as a vulnerable species.

Chinstrap Penguins

Named for the line that runs beneath their face from ear to ear, Chinstrap penguins are similar in size to Adélies. They prefer the relatively warmer waters near the islands off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Located on the side of a dormant volcano known as Deception Island, the Bailey’s Head colony contains nearly one million birds. Fights erupt as the male and female birds challenge their competition for mates and nesting spots in rocky terrain that is free from ice and snow.

Gentoo Penguins

Early explorers named these birds for their feathers that resemble a turban. The world’s third largest penguins, these birds have pale markings behind the eyes as well as red-orange beaks and peach-colored feet. Their colonies are situated along the Antarctic Peninsula. Preferring inland nesting sites, the colony travels to the sea by following the same common path, which makes it easier to reach the feeding grounds. Should the first brood be unsuccessful, Gentoos may lay another set of eggs if it is early enough in the season. Their major populations are found on South Georgia as well as the Falkland and Kerguelen Islands.

Macaroni Penguins

One of six crested penguin species, Macaroni penguins were named for their ornate yellow plumage that is situated above each of their eyes. This moniker is a derivative of the term Macaroni Dandies, which was used to describe flamboyant dressers in the late 18th century. They also have red eyes and an orange-brown bill. Similar in size to Adélies and Chinstraps, they prefer the islands around Antarctica and rarely venture onto the continent. Their largest colonies are found on Heard and South Georgia Islands.  The International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers these penguins vulnerable.

During the Antarctic travel season, a variety of land- and ship-based excursions provide wonderful opportunities to witness these marvelous creatures up close. Contact Epic Road to book your adventure and meet these resilient and quirky little birds.

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