Monday, November 8, 2010


ICEBAR Orlando serves Little Penguin Wine. Each bottle supports the Penguin Foundation, and we have also adopted our own Magellanic penguin named Ice Ice Baby. Here is the continuing story of our little penguin.

I attach a new photo of your penguin back home in the burrow. The penguins recently arrived back at the colony from their winter vacations, and the first job they had to do was to make repairs to the nest after the winter storms. The pairs then mate, and two eggs were laid in the nest just a few days ago. Magellanic penguins always lay exactly two eggs, with approximately 4 days between each egg.

If we were to disturb the penguins before the eggs are laid, there is a slight chance that they would abandon the nest and move elsewhere, but once the eggs have been laid the penguins remain in the nest. It is for that reason that we only take the photos of our adopted penguins after the colony has finished laying eggs.

Each nest is examined to make sure that both eggs are present, and the photos that we send to you are taken. From this point onwards the nest is visited every few days to follow the progress of the eggs and then the chicks, right up until the chicks are fully grown and leave the nest to begin life on their own.

The eggs now in the nest have to be kept warm for the next 6 weeks, so that the little baby penguins can grow inside the eggs. Since the nests have no heating, the eggs are kept warm by the adults lying over the eggs. This keeps the eggs safe from predators, like gulls and skuas, and also maintains the correct temperature for the embryos to develop inside the eggs. Keeping the eggs warm like this is called 'incubation', and virtually all birds need to do it. The attached photo shows your penguin in the nest with the eggs.

Penguins have an area of skin on their stomachs which is called the 'brood patch'. This area has very few feathers, and enables the adult's skin to press directly against the eggs, providing good heat transfer into the eggs.

Such close contact is necessary during heavy rain to stop the eggs loosing heat. When the penguins leave the nest and go to sea, this area of bare skin is closed (hence the name 'pouch'), so that the cold sea water does not chill the penguin.

Penguin eggs are quite large, weighing about 130 grams each. That is about twice the size of the hen eggs which you probably eat at home. Magellanic penguin eggs take approximately 6 weeks to hatch, and the hatching itself can take up to a couple of days as the tiny chick (which has very little strength because it has never used its muscles) struggles to break free of the egg shell.

Because penguins eat fish, it means that they are unable to eat anything whilst they are incubating the eggs, so they take it in turns. One of the parents stays in the nest incubating the eggs, whilst the other goes to sea to catch fish, and they change over every couple of days.

Penguins are very fast swimmers, and very good at catching fish. The reason they are black on their backs and white on their tummies, is so that the fish can't see them coming. From deep beneath the water, their silvery-white chests and tummies are difficult to see by fish looking up towards the light sky above, and fish looking down cannot easily see their black backs against the gloomy dark depths below. That is why penguins, and gulls, and indeed most seabirds, have white stomachs, chests and underparts, and black backs, heads and upper parts.

Magdalena Island's only building is a lighthouse, one of many lighthouses that were built around 100 years ago to help ships navigate through the Straits of Magellan. The Straits of Magellan were discovered in 1520 by Hernan de Magallanes, and it was an important discovery because it allowed ships to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, without going around the dreaded Cape Horn, that destroyed so many ships with its savage storms. Magellanic penguins take their name from the Straits of Magellan, which in turn was named after Hernan de Magallanes

Throughout Patagonia the winds are very strong, averaging 20 to 30km per hour most days, with storms of over 100km per hour being common. As such, the seas around southern South America can be very rough, but penguins are very good swimmers, and have no problem swimming in even the roughest of weather. Penguins prefer being at sea, and only come ashore when necessary to raise chicks and to moult / molt (change their feathers).

Magdalena Island is a very big penguin colony, with about 65,000 occupied nests in the colony, which we have been studying and protecting since 1998, thanks to our penguin adoption programme. Population censuses performed since 1999 show that the population is healthy and has increased slightly in size during that period, thanks to monitoring and protection. Unfortunately the progress of the colony has been recently threatened by climate change.

You will recall how last season lack of rain caused much of the grass to die off, leaving loose sandy soil that blows across the island day after day, filling in and covering the penguin burrows. We had hoped that rain during the winter months would have allowed the grass to recover, but unfortunately rainfall during the winter was low, and there has been no improvement in grass cover. Early indications are that this is not going to be a good season on Magdalena Island, and that we are once again going to be kept busy digging out penguins trapped inside their burrows.

Thank you for supporting our adoption programme. Please help us to do more by letting other people know about our penguin adoption programme. Our work is entirely funded by our adoption programme, and the sale of my books, so the more people who sign up, the more we can do to help the penguins.

Our Internet page is and we also have a page on Facebook called "Penguins - Penguins Adoption Programme" where you can see a photo album of us working with the penguins at!/pages/Penguins-Penguins-adoption-programme/103536939709019

If you have a Facebook page yourself, please click on the "Like" button to add our page to your list of sites that you like, so that more people will find us. Every new person that comes across our work, and adopts a penguin, means another penguin being kept safe.

I will write to you again as soon as the eggs hatch.

Best wishes