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Cold comfort

Emperor penguin chicks can not survive without their parents.

In early spring, the weather in Antarctica can still be variable and a severe storm can threaten the survival of an emperor penguin chick. An abandoned chick tries to seek shelter from passing adults in a blizzard. One of the adults seems interested and tries to warm it but the vital parent-chick bond is not there and the adult soon walks away. The adults do actually have a strong instinct to protect chicks, and birds that have not managed to breed will try to adopt a stray or abandoned chick. But the fostering never succeeds because the adult has no partner to help in rearing the waif. The instinct to care for chicks is sometimes so strong that the chick will be crushed to death in the melee. Mortality is high here. Many eggs do not hatch and in those that do, a quarter of the chicks die in the first few months. The survivors must grow fast and fledge before the sea ice that they live on breaks up. The chicks take five months to rear, so incubating them through the winter is the only way emperors can breed every year.

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