Ever wondered what goes on inside a penguin burrow? Our research team sure has! To help answer their questions, in 2013 they installed a burrow cam into a Penguin Parade burrow box. Check out the footage!
A new addition to the family! Here we can see two adult penguins with their egg. The egg is about the size of a chicken’s egg and will take approximately 35 days to hatch. Both parents share incubation duties, and when the chick hatches, both parents will share feeding duties.
This footage shows an adult penguin with its 1 day old chick. You can see the adult penguin has the chick tucked between its legs to keep it warm and is thoroughly grooming (preening) it. At this point the chick’s eyes are not yet fully open and it is unable to support its own head. At hatching a little penguin chick weighs about 45 grams.
Here is the same chick at 5 days old. Already the chick is looking bigger and more independent, but still needs an adult nearby. Little ravens are keen to predate penguin chicks but an adult’s vicious peck helps keep them at bay. From this footage we can’t tell if the adult is the mum or the dad. Parents take turns with one guarding the chick, while the other goes fishing for several days. When they have a belly full of fish and squid, the parent will return to the burrow and guard duty will change hands.
The chick is now three weeks old and almost ready to be left on its own. At this ‘post-guard’ stage they have developed enough that they can maintain their own body temperature without an adult nearby. This is important because the chick’s appetite is growing along with the rest of it! Both adults must hunt during the day to bring back enough food to support this growth spurt.
Once a year little penguins shed their old feathers and grow a new set. This is called moulting. Penguin feathers are very important to their survival and this process helps ensure that their feathers are in good condition. Before moulting, penguins spend a long time at sea fishing. They eat enough to double their body weight to around 2 kilograms. This is important because during the moult the penguins aren’t waterproof and cannot head back to sea to feed. The moult lasts 17 days and the penguins must spend all of this time on land. In this footage you can see the female (closest) and male (furthest) in different stages of moult. When their feathers have finally grown in, their body weight will have dropped to around 750 grams and they will be very eager to head back to sea.
This footage shows two adult penguins preening each other. Penguins preen themselves to keep their feathers in good condition, but they also preen their partners in pair bonding. Most of the time preening works well but if a penguin has come into contact with oil floating in the ocean this is bad news. If a penguin tries to preen oil out of their feathers, they will ingest it. When the rangers at Phillip Island Nature Parks find oiled penguins we do our best to help them! If we were to try and wash the oil off the penguin straight away the stress might kill them. Instead we tuck them inside a lovely penguin jumper which keeps them warm and keeps them from getting their beak to the oil. After a few days when the penguin has been fed and is more relaxed, we can remove the oil and start getting them ready to be released.
During autumn, as the temperature drops and the days shorten, the weather mimics that of the spring breeding season and the penguins enter something called the ‘false- breed’. While little penguins only have one partner at a time they do not necessarily mate for life. If the couple has good breeding success they will often stay together, but the divorce rate in little penguin couples can be between 17% and 50% a year. Little penguins do not have external genitalia and instead have an opening called a cloaca which is used for both mating and excrement. During mating the male will climb on the female’s back and, using his flippers for balance, will touch his cloaca to hers exchanging sperm.