Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Young chicks (gratuitous headline intended to inflate web traffic)

Our astute ornithologists alerted us to some of the first Adelie penguin chicks of the year, no more than three days old when we saw them on Tuesday.
This is not your antiseptic maternity ward. It feels, instead, like a great blending of primordial goop.
On a rocky little island aptly named Humble, amid the random snoring and bellowing of lethargic elephant seals, the chicks sit in rock nests springing veritable streams of guano and slush that dribble through mounds of  seal dung. Think of downtown Kansas City after the St. Patrick's Day parade.
In these early days, both parents stay near -- likely to protect the young from the greedy jaws of skua shorebirds. Soon they will take more turns venturing out into the water for meals.

At first approach, they seem invisible. Advised to stand quietly as winds grew stronger, their tiny chirps caught our ears and led our eyes.
Mostly, the adults keep the downy chicks warm by sitting on them as if they were still just eggs. Then the parents stand and out pop the hungry maws -- like editors, always begging for more, more, more.
So Mom, or just as often Dad, barfs. Tiny, slimy, half-digested bits of seafood wretch up and into the hatchling's beaks. Antarctic sushi.
Nearby, other nests still harbor eggs. But the job of the newborns is to eat and make guano. They do both as prodigiously as the Royals give up runs. Like our boys in blue, they've been doing worse each year. The Royals don't have a great excuse. For these feathery swimmers, the problem is that in the winter they forage from the ice during the daylight. Since there's increasingly less ice, they move farther and farther south, where the winter days only get shorter. And so on. But there's always next year.


Anonymous said...

Not exactly what you would see in a Disney movie.

zoot said...

I bet the kindergarten class will go wild after seeing the three day old chicks!

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