The next installment in my penguin week series is the Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua). Next up will be the Adelie Penguin to round out the Pygoscelid or brush-tailed penguins, the genus I am most familiar with and which form the majority of the penguins found on the Antarctic Peninsula. I will finish this series with a post on the rest of the penguins I was able to see on this trip.
The Gentoo is rapidly becoming the most common species of penguin on the Antarctic Peninsula. Although Gentoo colonies do not rival the size of the largest Adelie and Chinstrap colonies, populations are increasing and they are expanding rapidly south along the peninsula. In keeping with my Chinstrap theme of describing one place on the peninsula that typifies a particular species, I will describe Gentoos as part of a visit to Cuverville Island, one of the largest Gentoo colonies on the peninsula.
I previously discussed Cuverville Island as part of a typical day for us in Antarctica here. There a many Gentoos here. They are much less strict about the timing of their breeding activities and we often find chicks of many different ages within a colony. Gentoos in the vicinity of Cuverville appeared to have suffered from heavy snow this spring and it looked as if a number of pairs had failed while others were able to keep their initial breeding efforts going resulting in wide gaps in the colonies where nests had failed. The colonies were a mess with lots of melted snow, failed nests, and wandering penguins. Even when they do well, Gentoos spend much more time at the colonies than the other Pygoscelid species and both pair are often present at the colonies. This is apparently a result of a more inshore feeding habit that allows these birds to spend less time feeding far away from the colonies as compared to the Chinstraps and Adelies.
Gentoos spend a lot of time bathing in the shallow waters near the colony. The photo above shows four Gentoos rolling in the water and splashing around while they bathe. Sometimes they really need a good bath too.
Below is a close-up photo of a brood patch on a Gentoo. I discussed this previously with the Chinstraps but this shows much better the bare patch of skin developed to help transfer heat from the incubating penguin to the eggs.
Very rarely do you see a penguin sprint but the bird in the photo above in making a dash for the water off the iceberg.