Baby Durden

February 25, 2013

Dear Caz

The chicks have now left the nest and are heading out into the open ocean to
begin life on their own. It is sad to say goodbye to them, but it is also a happy
time knowing that the dangers of being a chick are now behind them, and that
they have their whole lives in front of them to explore the vast oceans and to
have chicks of their own.

As chicks they faced lots of dangers, especially from predatory birds called
Skuas, which are like large brown seagulls. But now that the chicks are out at
sea they have no real predators to worry about. Animals that eat penguins, such
as Orcas and Leopard Seals do not live in the warmer waters around South America
where we live, they live further south in the colder waters around Antarctica.
Where we live penguins are top dog in the water.

But life will not be easy for the chicks in the beginning. The chicks have spent
the last few weeks sitting in the nest waiting for us to bring them food. Whenever
they were hungry, which was most of the time, they would just open their beaks
and demand to have food pushed inside. Their life was made up of eating, sleeping
and playing. Now catching their own food for the first time will be a big challenge.

They have never been in the water before, and have never been taught how to find
and catch fish for themselves. This ability to find and catch fish is part of
their nature. It is already inside them, and it is called instinct. Kittens are
always attracted to anything that moves, like a piece of string or a toy. That
is because it is part of their instinct from birth to trap any small animal or
bird that moves, or indeed any small object that moves. It is the movement that
triggers the hunting instinct.

Penguins have the same instinct to chase and catch any small fish that they see
swimming in the water. So much of their hunting skills rely on this instinct
to chase moving fish, that a hungry penguin will not even eat a dead fish. If
a fish doesn’t move, then the penguins don’t see it as food and won’t touch it.
Penguins that are fed by hand in zoos and aquariums have to be taught to eat
dead fish.

Now that the chicks have left home we need to spend time recovering from all
the work of raising the chicks. We normally weigh about 6.0 kg, but at the moment
we only weigh 4.5 kg, because we have lost so much weight with all the work feeding
the chicks. So now we go to sea for about a month to rest and to catch lots of
fish for ourselves, so as to regain the weight we have lost.

In about another month we have to come back to shore to change all our old feathers
for new feathers. This happens every year, and it is a real drag because we can’t
go into the water while it is happening. That means 3 to 4 weeks with no food,
because we catch all our food at sea. So we are going to make the most of the
coming month to eat as much as we can, to fatten up for the coming feather change.

I will write to you again when we are back home after our month long feeding
trip. In the meantime I attach a photo showing my friends gathering on the beach
ready to leave on our month-long fishing trip. If you enlarge the photo you will
see that the black dots in the water are in fact penguins leaving.

Lots of love from Durden

Ready to Leave

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