'Criminal' penguin caught on film

The "criminal" penguin takes stones from its neighbour's nest

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A "criminal" stone-stealing Adelie penguin has been captured on camera by a BBC film crew.

The team, filming for the documentary Frozen Planet, spent four months with the penguin colony on Ross Island, Antarctica.

The footage they captured shows a male penguin stealing stones from its neighbour's nest.

The birds build their stone nests to elevate and protect their eggs from run-off when the Antarctic ice melts.

Males with the best nests are more likely to attract a mate, so, in a colony of half a million penguins, the best stones are highly prized.

Start Quote

Adelie penguin (Image: Photolibrary.com)

Adelies are like festival-goers that have had too much caffeine”

End Quote Jeff Wilson BBC Natural History Unit

Jeff Wilson, director of the shoot, explained that he and the cameraman, Mark Smith, knew that the birds occasionally stole stones from one another. But he said it was a challenge to capture the moment in the chaos of a busy penguin colony.

"The're only a foot and a half tall, so you have to get down to penguin level," he told BBC Nature.

"So poor old Mark, was crawling around and there were adelies constantly looking right down the barrel of his lens.

"It's appealing at first, but when it happens for the hundredth time as you're trying to get the shots you need, you start to lose patience."

He added that the colony was "the most aurally exhausting place".

"You're bombarded with sound," he recalled.

"There are 250,000 males building nests and on top of all the breeding penguins, you have groups of adolescent non-breeding penguins. They're just in the way causing trouble."

Each male adelie penguin build its nest just out of "pecking distance" of its neighbours. Mr Wilson likened the density of nests and the constant activity of the animals to a field of tents at a festival.

"Adelies are like festival-goers that have had too much caffeine," he said. "They're aggressive and hyperactive."

Despite this, Mr Smith managed to capture a remarkable sequence, with one penguin repeatedly returning to its nest to add stones, apparently unaware of the fact that his neighbour would steal a stone every time his nest was unattended.

"It's a testament to Mark's patience and presence of mind, that he managed to leave the camera running and capture that moment."

Frozen Planet starts on 26 October at 21:00 BST on BBC One

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