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Title: Antarctic Penguins - A Study of Their Social Habits
Author: Levick, George Murray
Language: English
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  [ Transcriber's Notes:

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THE HEART OF THE ANTARCTIC. Being a Story of the British Antarctic
Expedition, 1907-1909. By Sir E. H. SHACKLETON, C.V.O. With Introduction
by HUGH ROBERT MILL, D.S.O. An Account of the First Journey to the South
Magnetic Pole by Professor T. W. EDGWORTH DAVID, F.R.S. 2 vols., crown
4to. Illustrated with Maps and Portraits. 36s net. Edition de Luxe, with
Autographs, Special Contributions, Etched Plates, and Pastel Portraits.
£10 10s net. New and Revised Edition. With Coloured Illustrations and
Black and White. Crown 8vo, 6s net.


LOST IN THE ARCTIC. Being the Story of the "Alabama" Expedition. By
Captain Ejnar Mickelson. Crown 4to. Illustrations and Maps. 18s net.

IN NORTHERN MISTS. Arctic Exploration in Early Times. By FRIDTJOF
NANSEN. With numerous Illustrations and Coloured Frontispieces. 2 vols.,
cr. 4to, 30s net.








  First Published March 1914

  Second Impression May 1914




  INTRODUCTION                            1


  THE FASTING PERIOD                     17



  APPENDIX                              119


  McCORMICK'S SKUA GULL                 125



  "Occasionally an unaccountable 'broodiness' seemed to
  take possession of the penguins"                          Frontispiece

                                                              To face p.

  An angry Adélie                                                      2

  Dozing                                                               4

  Waking up, stretching, and yawning                                   4

  Pack-ice                                                             8

  Heavy seas in the autumn                                             8

      "throw up masses of ice"                                        10

      "which are frozen into a compact mass"                          10

      "and later, form the beautiful terraces of the ice-foot"        14

  Penguins at the rookery                                             14

  In the foreground a mated pair have begun to build                  20

  The rookery beginning to fill up                                    22

  "The hens would keep up this peck-pecking hour after hour"          24

  An affectionate couple                                              24

  "Side by side ... nests of very big stones and nests of
  very small stones"                                                  26

  On the march to the rookery                                         28

  Part of the line of approaching birds, several miles in length      30

  Arriving at the rookery                                         32, 34

  Adélies arriving                                                    36

  A cock carrying a stone to his nest                                 36

  Several interesting things are taking place here                    38

  Three cocks in rivalry                                              40

  Two of the cocks squaring up for battle                             40

  Hard at it                                                          42

  The end of the battle                                               42

  The proposal                                                        44

  Cocks fighting for hens                                         46, 48

  Penguin on nest                                                     48

  Showing the position of the two eggs                                50

  An Adélie in "ecstatic" attitude                                    50

  Floods                                                              52

  Flooded                                                             54

  A nest with stones of mixed sizes                                   54

  "Hour after hour ... they fought again and again"                   56

  A nest on a rock                                                    58

  "One after another, the rest of the party followed him"             58

  A joy ride                                                          60

  A knot of penguins on the ice-foot                                  62

  An Adélie leaping from the water                                    64

  An Adélie leaping four feet high and ten feet long                  66

  Jumping on to slippery ice                                          68

  "When they succeeded in pushing one of their number over,
  all would crane their necks over the edge"                          70

  Diving flat into shallow water                          72, 74, 76, 78

  Adélies "porpoising"                                                78

  A perfect dive into deep water                                      80

  Sea-leopards "lurk beneath the overhanging ledges"                  82

  A sea-leopard's head                                                84

  A sea-leopard 10 ft. 6½ in. long                                    86

  A young sea-leopard on sea-ice                                      86

  "With graceful arching of his neck, appeared to assure her
  of his readiness to take charge"                                    88

  "The chicks began to appear"                                        90

  An Adélie being sick                                                90

  Method of feeding the young                                         92

  Profile of an Adélie chick                                          94

  A task becoming impossible                                          96

  Adélie with chick twelve days old                                   98

  A couple with their chicks                                         100

  Adélie penguins have a strong love of climbing for its own sake    102

  Adélies on the ice-foot                                  104, 106, 108

  "An imprisoned hen was poking her head up"                         110

  "Her mate appeared to be very angry with her"                      110

  "When she broke out, they became reconciled"                       112

  Adélie nests on top of Cape Adare                                  112

  "Leapt at one another into the air"                                130

  A Skua by its chick                                                130

  An Emperor Penguin                                                 134

  Profile of an Emperor                                              136



The penguins of the Antarctic regions very rightly have been termed the
true inhabitants of that country. The species is of great antiquity,
fossil remains of their ancestors having been found, which showed that
they flourished as far back as the eocene epoch. To a degree far in
advance of any other bird, the penguin has adapted itself to the sea as
a means of livelihood, so that it rivals the very fishes. This
proficiency in the water has been gained at the expense of its power of
flight, but this is a matter of small moment, as it happens.

  (1) _Pygoscelis adeliæ._

In few other regions could such an animal as the penguin rear its young,
for when on land its short legs offer small advantage as a means of
getting about, and as it cannot fly, it would become an easy prey to any
of the carnivora which abound in other parts of the globe. Here,
however, there are none of the bears and foxes which inhabit the North
Polar regions, and once ashore the penguin is safe.

The reason for this state of things is that there is no food of any
description to be had inland. Ages back, a different state of things
existed: tropical forests abounded, and at one time, the seals ran about
on shore like dogs. As conditions changed, these latter had to take to
the sea for food, with the result that their four legs, in course of
time, gave place to wide paddles or "flippers," as the penguins' wings
have done, so that at length they became true inhabitants of the sea.

Were the Sea-Leopards(2) (the Adélies' worst enemy) to take to the land
again, there would be a speedy end to all the southern penguin
rookeries. As these, however, are inhabited only during four and a half
months of the year, the advantage to the seals in growing legs again
would not be great enough to influence evolution in that direction. At
the same time, I wonder very much that the sea-leopards, who can squirm
along at a fair pace on land, have not crawled up the few yards of
ice-foot intervening between the water and some of the rookeries, as,
even if they could not catch the old birds, they would reap a rich
harvest among the chicks when these are hatched. Fortunately however
they never do this.

  (2) Sea-Leopard = _Stenorhinchus leptonyx_.

  [Illustration: Fig. 1. AN ANGRY ADÉLIE (Page 3)]

When seen for the first time, the Adélie penguin gives you the
impression of a very smart little man in an evening dress suit, so
absolutely immaculate is he, with his shimmering white front and black
back and shoulders. He stands about two feet five inches in height,
walking very upright on his little legs.

His carriage is confident as he approaches you over the snow, curiosity
in his every movement. When within a yard or two of you, as you stand
silently watching him, he halts, poking his head forward with little
jerky movements, first to one side, then to the other, using his right
and left eye alternately during his inspection. He seems to prefer using
one eye at a time when viewing any near object, but when looking far
ahead, or walking along, he looks straight ahead of him, using both
eyes. He does this, too, when his anger is aroused, holding his head
very high, and appearing to squint at you along his beak, as in
Figure 1.

After a careful inspection, he may suddenly lose all interest in you,
and ruffling up his feathers sink into a doze. Stand still for a minute
till he has settled himself to sleep, then make sound enough to wake him
without startling him, and he opens his eyes, stretching himself, yawns,
then finally walks off, caring no more about you. (Figs. 2 and 3.)

The wings of Adélies, like those of the other penguins, have taken the
form of paddles, and are covered with very fine scale-like feathers.
Their legs being very short, they walk slowly, with a waddling gait, but
can travel at a fair pace over snow or ice by falling forward on to
their breasts, and propelling themselves with all four limbs.

To continue the sketch, I quote two other writers:

M. Racovitza, of the "Belgica" expedition, well describes them as

"Imagine a little man, standing erect, provided with two broad paddles
instead of arms, with head small in comparison with the plump stout
body; imagine this creature with his back covered with a black coat ...
tapering behind to a pointed tail that drags on the ground, and adorned
in front with a glossy white breast-plate. Have this creature walk on
his two feet, and give him at the same time a droll little waddle, and a
pert movement of the head; you have before you something irresistibly
attractive and comical."

  [Illustration: Fig. 2. Dozing]

  [Illustration: Fig. 3. Waking up, Stretching, and Yawning (Page 3)]

Dr. Louis Gain, of the French Antarctic expedition, gives us the
following description:

"The Adélie penguin is a brave animal, and rarely flees from danger. If
it happens to be tormented, it faces its aggressor and ruffles the black
feathers which cover its back. Then it takes a stand for combat, the
body straight, the animal erect, the beak in the air, the wings
extended, not losing sight of its enemy.

"It then makes a sort of purring, a muffled grumbling, to show that it
is not satisfied, and has not lost a bit of its firm resolution to
defend itself. In this guarded position it stays on the spot; sometimes
it retreats, and lying flat on the ground, pushes itself along with all
the force of its claws and wings. Should it be overtaken, instead of
trying to increase its speed, it stops, backs up again to face anew the
peril, and returns to its position of combat. Sometimes it takes the
offensive, throws itself upon its aggressor, whom it punishes with blows
of its beak and wings."

The Adélie penguin is excessively curious, taking great pains to inspect
any strange object he may see. When we were waiting for the ship to
fetch us home, some of us lived in little tents which we pitched on the
snow about fifty yards from the edge of the sea. Parties of penguins
from Cape Royds rookery frequently landed here, and almost invariably
the first thing they did on seeing our tents, was at once to walk up the
slope and inspect these, walking all round them, and often staying to
doze by them for hours. Some of them, indeed, seemed to enjoy our
companionship. When you pass on the sea-ice anywhere near a party of
penguins, these generally come up to look at you, and we had great
trouble to keep them away from the sledge dogs when these were tethered
in rows near the hut at Cape Evans. The dogs killed large numbers of
them in consequence, in spite of all we could do to prevent this.

The Adélies, as will be seen in these pages, are extremely brave, and
though panic occasionally overtakes them, I have seen a bird return time
after time to attack a seaman who was brutally sending it flying by
kicks from his sea-boot, before I arrived to interfere. An exact
description of the plumage of the Adélie penguins will be found in the
Appendix, as it is more especially of their habits that I intend to
treat in this work.

Before describing these, and with a view to making them more
intelligible to the general reader, I will proceed to a short

The Adélie penguins spend their summer and bring forth their young in
the far South. Nesting on the shores of the Antarctic continent, and on
the islands of the Antarctic seas, they are always close to the water,
being dependent on the sea for their food, as are all Antarctic fauna;
the frozen regions inland, for all practical purposes, being barren of
both animal and vegetable life.

Their requirements are few: they seek no shelter from the terrible
Antarctic gales, their rookeries in most cases being in open wind-swept
spots. In fact, three of the four rookeries I visited were possibly in
the three most windy regions of the Antarctic. The reason for this is
that only wind-swept places are so kept bare of snow that solid ground
and pebbles for making nests are to be found.

When the chicks are hatched and fully fledged, they are taught to swim,
and when this is accomplished and they can catch food for themselves,
both young and old leave the Southern limits of the sea, and make their
way to the pack-ice out to the northward, thus escaping the rigors and
darkness of the Antarctic winter, and keeping where they will find the
open water which they need. For in the winter the seas where they nest
are completely covered by a thick sheet of ice which does not break out
until early in the following summer. Much of this ice is then borne
northward by tide and wind, and accumulates to form the vast rafts of
what is called "pack-ice," many hundreds of miles in extent, which lie
upon the surface of the Antarctic seas. (Fig. 4.)

It is to this mass of floating sea-ice that the Adélie penguins make
their way in the autumn, but as their further movements here are at
present something of a mystery, the question will be discussed at
greater length presently.

When young and old leave the rookery at the end of the breeding season,
the new ice has not yet been formed, and their long journey to the pack
has to be made by water, but they are wonderful swimmers and seem to
cover the hundreds of miles quite easily.

Arrived on the pack, the first year's birds remain there for two
winters. It is not until after their first moult, the autumn following
their departure from the rookery, that they grow the distinguishing mark
of the adult, black feathers replacing the white plumage which has
hitherto covered the throat.

The spring following this, and probably every spring for the rest of
their lives, they return South to breed, performing their journey, very
often, not only by water, but on foot across many miles of frozen sea.

  [Illustration: Fig. 4. Pack Ice (on which the Adélies winter)
  Two Weddell Seals are seen on a Floe]

  [Illustration: Fig. 5. Heavy Seas in the Autumn (Page 10)]

For those birds who nest in the southernmost rookeries, such as Cape
Crozier, this journey must mean for them a journey of at least four
hundred miles by water, and an unknown but considerable distance on foot
over ice.

As I am about to describe the manners and customs of Adélie penguins at
the Cape Adare rookery, I will give a short description of that spot.

Cape Adare is situated in lat. 71° 14' S. long. 170° 10' E., and is a
neck of land jutting out from the sheer and ice-bound foot-hills of
South Victoria Land northwards for a distance of some twenty miles.

For its whole length, the sides of this Cape rise sheer out of the sea,
affording no foothold except at the extreme end, where a low beach has
been formed, nestling against the steep side of the cliff which here
rises almost perpendicularly to a height of over 1000 feet.

Hurricanes frequently sweep this beach, so that snow never settles there
for long, and as it is composed of basaltic material freely strewn with
rounded pebbles, it forms a convenient nesting site, and it was on this
spot that I made the observations set forth in the following pages.

Viewed before the penguins' arrival in the spring, and after recent
winds had swept the last snowfalls away, the rookery is seen to be
composed of a series of undulations and mounds, or "knolls," while
several sheets of ice, varying in size up to some hundreds of yards in
length and one hundred yards in width, cover lower lying ground where
lakes of thaw water form in the summer. Though doubtless the ridges and
knolls of the rookery owe their origin mainly to geological phenomena,
their contour has been much added to as, year by year, the penguins have
chosen the higher eminences for their nests; because their guano, which
thickly covers the higher ground, has protected this from weathering and
the denuding effect of the hurricanes which pass over it at certain
seasons and tend to carry away the small fragments of ground that have
been split up by the frost.

The shores of this beach are protected by a barrier of ice-floes which
are stranded there by the sea in the autumn. These floes become welded
together and form the "ice-foot" frequently referred to in these pages,
and photographs showing how this is done are seen on Figs. 5, 6, 7 and

At the back of the rookery, nesting sites are to be seen stretching up
the steep cliff to a height of over 1000 feet, some of them being almost
inaccessible, so difficult is the climb which the penguins have made to
reach them.

  [Illustration: Fig. 6. "... Throw up Masses of Ice,]

  [Illustration: Fig. 7. "... Which are Frozen into a Compact Mass as
  Winter approaches" (Page 10)]

On Duke of York Island, some twenty miles south of the Cape Adare
rookery, another breeding-place has been made. This is a small colony
only, as might be expected. Indeed it is difficult to see why the
penguins chose this place at all whilst room still exists at the bigger
rookery, because Duke of York Island, until late in the season, is cut
off from open water by many miles of sea-ice, so that with the exception
of an occasional tide crack, or seals' blow holes, the birds of that
rookery have no means of getting food except by making a long journey on
foot. When the arrivals were streaming up to Cape Adare many were seen
to pass by, making in a straight line for Duke of York Island, and so
adding another twenty miles on foot to the journey they had already

When the time arrived for the birds to feed, some open leads had formed
about half way across the bay, and those of the Duke of York colony were
to be seen streaming over the ice for many miles on their way between
the water and their nests. They seem to think nothing of long journeys,
however, as in the early season, when unbroken sea-ice intervened
between the two rookeries, parties of penguins from Cape Adare actually
used to march out and meet their Duke of York friends half way over,
presumably for the pleasure of a chat.

To realize what this meant, we must remember that an Adélie penguin's
eyes being only about twelve inches above the ground when on the march,
his horizon is only one mile distant. Thus from Cape Adare he could just
see the top of the mountain on Duke of York Island peeping above the
horizon _on the clearest day_. In anything like thick weather he could
not see it at all, and probably he had never been there. So in the first
place, what was it that impelled him to go on this long journey to meet
his friends, and when so impelled, what instinct pointed out the way?
This of course merely brings us to the old question of migratory
instinct, but in the case of the penguin, its horizon is so very short
that it is quite evident he possesses a special sense of direction, in
addition to the special sense which urged him to go and meet the Duke of
York Island contingent, and I may here remark that when we were
returning to New Zealand in the summer of 1913, we passed troops of
penguins swimming in the open sea far out of sight of land,--an
unanswerable reply to those naturalists who still maintain that
migrating birds must rely upon their eyes for guidance, and this remark
applies equally to the penguins we found on the northern limits of the
pack-ice, some five hundred miles from the rookeries to which they would
repair the following year.


  |               | Northern |  Miles | Southern |  Miles  |              |
  |   Mean date   |   limit  |  from  |   limit  | of pack |    Remarks   |
  |               |  of pack |C. Adare|  of pack |N. and S.|              |
  | Feb.  3, 1839 |  68° S.  |   190  |     ?    |    ?    | Balleny      |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Jan.  1, 1841 |  66° 30' |   280  |  69°     |   150   | Ross         |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Feb.  1, 1895 |  66° 15' |   300  |  69° 45' |   210   | Kristensen   |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Feb.  8, 1899 |  66°  0' |   315  |  69°  0' |   180   | Borchgravink |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Feb. 27, 1904 |     ?    |        |  70° 30' |    ?    | Scott        |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Feb. 15, 1910 |    nil   |        |    nil   |         | _Terra Nova_ |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Mar. 13, 1912 |    nil   |        |    nil   |         | _Terra Nova_ |
  |               |          |        |          |         |              |
  | Jan. 30, 1913 |    nil   |        |    nil   |         | _Terra Nova_ |

  _Note._--Ross, Kristensen, Scott, Shackleton and Pennell all, however,
  found pack late in the season while trying to work west along the coast
  when only some forty-five to seventy-five miles north of Cape Adare, and
  all were turned by this pack.

  According to Pennell, it appears probable that there is a great hang of
  pack in the sea west of Cape Adare and south of the Balleny Islands, and
  most likely it is here that the Adélies repair when they leave Cape
  Adare rookery in the autumn. I think, however, it is safe to assume that
  they seek the northernmost limits of the pack during the winter, as
  these would offer the most favourable conditions.


  |               |           | Northern | Extends |  Minutes of latitude |
  |      Date     | Longitude |   limit  |N. and S.| Northern limit is N. |
  |               |           |          |  Miles  |     of Cape Adare    |
  | Jan. 12, 1840 |  166° E.  | 64° 30'  |    --   | 400 (Wilkes)         |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Jan.  3, 1902 |  178° E.  | 67° S.   |   140   | 250 (_Discovery_)    |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Dec. 31, 1902 |  180° E.  | 66° 30'  |    60   | 280 (_Morning_)      |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  |               |Second belt| 69°      |    30   | 130 (_Morning_)      |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Dec. 20, 1908 |  178° W.  | 66° 30'  |    60   | 270 (_Nimrod_)       |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Dec.  9, 1910 |  178° W.  | 64° 45'  |   300   | 390 (_Terra Nova_)   |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Dec. 27, 1911 |  177° W.  | 65° 20'  |   160   | 360 (_Terra Nova_)   |
  |               |           |          |         |                      |
  | Mar.  8, 1911 |  162° E.  | 64° 30'  |   270   | 400 (_Terra Nova_)   |

  [Illustration: Fig. 8. "... And later, form the Beautiful Terraces of
  the Ice-foot"]

  [Illustration: Fig. 9. Penguins at the Rookery (Page 18)]

The exact whereabouts of the Adélie penguins during the winter months
has been much discussed by different writers. It is agreed that they
repair to the pack-ice, but our knowledge of the movements of this pack
is very vague at the present time, and so unfortunately I can give but a
rough idea of the subject.

I have collected and noted down the latest evidence for the benefit of
the zoologists of future expeditions who may wish to investigate the
matter further, and I am indebted for nearly the whole of it to
Commander Harry L. Pennell, R.N., commander of the _Terra Nova_ from
1910 to 1913, who kindly drew up for me Tables A and B (_see_ pp. 13 and

Probably the information which more nearly concerns the penguins of Cape
Adare rookery will be found in Table A. The birds from Cape Crozier and
Cape Royds rookeries must have some four hundred miles further to travel
when they go North in the autumn than those at Cape Adare.



Diary from October 13 to November 3, describing the arrival of the
Adélie penguins at the rookery, and habits during the periods of mating
and building.

The first Adélie penguins arrived at the Ridley Beach rookery, Cape
Adare, on October 13. A blizzard came on then, with thick drift which
prevented any observations being made. The next day, when this subsided,
there were no penguins to be seen.

On October 15 two of them were loitering about the beach. During the
forenoon they were separate, but in the afternoon they kept company, and
walked over to the south-east corner of the rookery under the cliff of
Cape Adare, where they were sheltered from the cold breeze.

On October 16 at 11 A.M. there were about twenty penguins arrived.
Several came singly, and one little party of three came up together. On
arrival they wandered about by themselves, and stood or walked about the
beach, giving one the impression of simply hanging about, waiting for
something to "turn up."

By 4 P.M. there must have been close on a hundred penguins at the
rookery. It was a calm day and misty, so that I could not see far out
across the sea-ice, but so far it was evident that the birds were not
arriving in batches, but just dribbling in. They were then for the most
part squatting about the rookery, well scattered, some solitary, others
in groups, and facing in all directions. (Fig. 9.) They were not on the
prominences where the nesting sites are, but in the hollows and on the
snow of the frozen lakes. There was no sign of love-making or any
activity whatever. All were in fine plumage and condition.

During the night of October 16 the number of penguins increased greatly,
and on the morning of the 17th there was a thin sprinkling scattered
over the rookery. (Fig. 11.) A few were in pairs or threes, but more in
groups of a dozen or more, and all the birds were very phlegmatic, many
of them lying on their breasts, with beaks outstretched, apparently
asleep, and nearly all, as yesterday, in the hollows, though there was
no wind, and away from the nesting sites. They were very quiet. Probably
they were fatigued after their journey; perhaps also they were waiting
the stimulation of a greater crowd before starting their breeding
operations. As the guano-covered ridges, on which the old nests are,
were fairly soft and the pebbles loose, they were not waiting for higher
temperatures in order to get to work.

During October 17 the arrivals became gradually more frequent. They were
dribbling up from the sea-ice at the north-end of the beach, and soon
made a well-worn track up the ice-foot, whilst a long line of birds
approaching in single file, with some gaps, extended to the horizon in a
northerly direction.

During the day I noticed some penguins taking possession of old nests on
the ridges. These mostly squatted in the nests without any attempt at
repairing them or rearrangement of any sort. Afterwards I found that
they were unmated hens waiting for mates to come to them, and that this
was a very common custom among them. (Fig. 10.) If two occupied nests
within reach of one another they would stretch out their necks and peck
at each other. Their endeavour seemed to be to peck each other's tongue,
and this they frequently did, but generally struck the soft parts round
the margin of the bills, which often became a good deal swollen in
consequence. Often also their beaks would become interlocked. They would
keep up this peck-pecking hour after hour in a most relentless fashion.
(Fig. 12.) On one occasion I saw a hen succeed in driving another off
one of the old nests which she occupied. The vanquished one squatted on
the ground a few yards away, with rumpled feathers and "huffy"
appearance, whilst the other walked on to the nest and assumed the
"ecstatic" attitude (page 46). Nothing but animosity could have induced
this act, as thousands of old unoccupied nests lay all around.

About 9 P.M. a light snowstorm came on, and those few birds who had
taken possession of nests, left them, and all now lay in the hollows,
nestling into the fine drift which soon covered the ground to the extent
of a few inches. A group of about a dozen penguins which arrived near
the ice-foot in the morning, halted on the sea-ice without ascending the
little slope leading to the rookery, and stayed there all day.

With the few exceptions I have noted above, all the birds that had
arrived so far either were much fatigued, or else they realized that
they had come a little too soon and were waiting for some psychological
moment to arrive, for they were all strangely quiet and inactive.

  (Page 19)]

On October 18 the weather cleared and a fair number of penguins started
to build their nests. The great majority however, apparently resting,
still sat about. Those that built took their stones from old nests, as
at present so many of these lay unoccupied. They made quite large nests,
some inches high at the sides, with a comfortable hollow in the middle
to sit in. The stone carrying (Fig. 20) was done by the male birds, the
hens keeping continual guard over the nest, as otherwise the pair would
have been robbed of the fruits of their labours as fast as they were

As I strolled through the rookery, most of the birds took little or no
notice of me. Some, however, swore at me very savagely, and one
infuriated penguin rushed at me from a distance of some ten yards,
seizing the leg of my wind-proof trousers. In the morning quite a large
number lay down on the sea-ice, a few yards short of the rookery,
content apparently to have got so far. They lay there all day,
motionless on their breasts, with their chins outstretched on the snow.

By the evening of October 18 most of the penguins had gathered in little
groups on the nest-covered eminences, but there was at that time ample
room for all, there being only about three or four thousand arrived.
Although there were several open water holes against bergs frozen into
the sea-ice some half mile or so away, not a single bird attempted to
get food.

At 6 P.M. the whole rookery appeared to sleep, and the ceaseless
chattering of the past hours gave place to a dead and impressive
silence, though here and there an industrious little bird might be seen
busily fetching stone after stone to his nest.

At that date it was deeply dusk at midnight, though the sun was very
quickly rising in altitude, and continuous daylight would soon overtake

  [Illustration: Fig. 11. THE ROOKERY BEGINNING TO FILL UP (Page 18)]

By the morning of October 19 there had been a good many more arrivals,
but the rookery was not yet more than one-twentieth part full. All the
birds were fasting absolutely. Nest building was now in full swing, and
the whole place waking up to activity. Most of the pebbles for the new
nests were being taken from old nests, but a great deal of robbery went
on nevertheless. Depredators when caught were driven furiously away, and
occasionally chased for some distance, and it was curious to see the
difference in the appearance between the fleeing thief and his pursuer.
As the former raced and ducked about among the nests, doubling on his
tracks, and trying by every means to get lost in the crowd and so rid
himself of his pursuer, his feathers lay close back on his skin, giving
him a sleek look which made him appear half the size of the irate
nest-holder who sought to catch him, with feathers ruffled in
indignation. This at first led me to think that the hens were larger
than the cocks, as it was generally the hen who was at home, and the
cock who was after the stones, but later I found that sex makes
absolutely no difference in the size of the birds, or indeed in their
appearance at all, as seen by the human eye. After mating, their
behaviour as well as various outward signs serve to distinguish male
from female. Besides this certain differences in their habits, which I
will describe in another place, are to be noted.

The consciousness of guilt, however, always makes a penguin smooth his
feathers and look small, whilst indignation has the opposite effect.
Often when observing a knoll crowded with nesting penguins, I have seen
an apparently under-sized individual slipping quietly along among the
nests, and always by his subsequent proceedings he has turned out to be
a robber on the hunt for his neighbours' stones. The others, too, seemed
to know it, and would have a peck at him as he passed them.

At last he would find a hen seated unwarily on her nest, slide up behind
her, deftly and silently grab a stone, and run off triumphantly with it
to his mate who was busily arranging her own home. Time after time he
would return to the same spot, the poor depredated nest-holder being
quite oblivious of the fact that the side of her nest which lay behind
her was slowly but surely vanishing stone by stone.

Here could be seen how much individual character makes for success or
failure in the efforts of the penguins to produce and rear their
offspring. There are vigilant birds, always alert, who seem never to get
robbed or molested in any way: these have big high nests, made with
piles of stones. Others are unwary and get huffed as a result. There are
a few even who, from weakness of character, actually allow stronger
natured and more aggressive neighbours to rob them under their very

  [Illustration: Fig. 12. "The Hens would keep up this Peck-pecking hour
  after Hour"]

  [Illustration: Fig. 13. An Affectionate Couple (Page 26)]

In speaking of the robbery which is such a feature of the rookery during
nest building, special note must be made of the fact that violence is
never under any circumstances resorted to by the thieves. When detected,
these invariably beat a retreat, and offer not the least resistance to
the drastic punishment they receive if they are caught by their
indignant pursuers. The only disputes that ever take place over the
question of property are on the rare occasions when a _bona-fide_
misunderstanding arises over the possession of a nest. These must be
very rare indeed, as only on one occasion have I seen such a quarrel
take place. The original nesting sites being, as I will show, chosen by
the hens, it is the lady, in every case, who is the cause of the battle,
and when she is won her scoop goes with her to the victor.

As I grew to know these birds from continued observation, it was
surprising and interesting to note how much they differed in character,
though the weaker-minded who would actually allow themselves to be
robbed, were few and far between, as might be expected. Few, if any, of
these ever could succeed in hatching their young and winning them
through to the feathered stage.

When starting to make her nest, the usual procedure is for the hen to
squat on the ground for some time, probably to thaw it, then working
with her claws to scratch away at the material beneath her, shooting out
the rubble behind her. As she does this she shifts her position in a
circular direction until she has scraped out a round hollow. Then the
cock brings stones, performing journey after journey, returning each
time with one pebble in his beak which he deposits in front of the hen
who places it in position.

Sometimes the hollow is lined with a neat pavement of stones placed side
by side, one layer deep, on which the hen squats, afterwards building up
the sides around her. At other times the scoop would be filled up
indiscriminately by a heap of pebbles on which the hen then sat, working
herself down into a hollow in the middle.

Individuals differ, not only in their building methods, but also in the
size of the stones they select. Side by side may be seen a nest composed
wholly of very big stones, so large that it is a matter for wonder how
the birds can carry them, and another nest of quite small stones.
(Fig. 14.)

Different couples seem to vary much in character or mood. Some can be
seen quarrelling violently, whilst others appear most affectionate, and
the tender politeness of some of these latter toward one another is very
pretty to see. (Fig. 13.)

  [Illustration: Fig. 14. "SIDE BY SIDE ... NESTS OF VERY BIG STONES AND

I may here mention that the temperatures were rising considerably by
October 19, ranging about zero F.

During October 20 the stream of arrivals was incessant. Some mingled at
once with the crowd, others lay in batches on the sea-ice a few yards
short of the rookery, content to have got so far, and evidently feeling
the need for rest after their long journey from the pack. The greater
part of this journey was doubtless performed by swimming, as they
crossed open water, but I think that much of it must have been done on
foot over many miles of sea-ice, to account for the fatigue of many of

Their swimming I will describe later. On the ice they have two modes of
progression. The first is simple walking. Their legs being very short,
their stride amounts at most to four inches. Their rate of stepping
averages about one hundred and twenty steps per minute when on the

Their second mode of progression is "tobogganing." When wearied by
walking or when the surface is particularly suitable, they fall forward
on to their white breasts, smooth and shimmering with a beautiful
metallic lustre in the sunlight, and push themselves along by alternate
powerful little strokes of their legs behind them.

When quietly on the march, both walking and tobogganing produce the same
rate of progression, so that the string of arriving birds, tailing out
in a long line as far as the horizon, appears as a well-ordered
procession. I walked out a mile or so along this line, standing for some
time watching it tail past me and taking the photographs with which I
have illustrated the scene. Most of the little creatures seemed much out
of breath, their wheezy respiration being distinctly heard.

First would pass a string of them walking, then a dozen or so
tobogganing. (Fig. 15.) Suddenly those that walked would flop on to
their breasts and start tobogganing, and conversely strings of
tobogganers would as suddenly pop up on to their feet and start walking.
In this way they relieved the monotony of their march, and gave
periodical rest to different groups of muscles and nerve-centres.

The surface of the snow on the sea-ice varied continually, and over any
very smooth patches the pedestrians almost invariably started to
toboggan, whilst over "bad going" they all had perforce to walk.

Figs. 16, 17, 18 and 19 present some idea of the procession of these
thousands on thousands of penguins as day after day they passed into the


When tobogganing, turning to one side or the other is done with one or
more strokes of the opposite flipper. When fleeing or chasing, both
flippers as well as both feet are used in propulsion, and over most
surfaces tobogganing is thus their fastest mode of progression, but when
going at full tilt it is also the most exhausting, and after a short
spurt in this way they invariably return to the walking position.

By October 20 many of the nests were complete, and the hens sat in them,
though no eggs were to be seen yet. In the middle of one of the frozen
lakes rose a little island, well suited for nesting except for the fact
that later in the season, probably about the time when the young chicks
were hatched, the lake would be thawed and the approach to the island
only to be accomplished through about six inches or more of dirty water
and ooze. Until then, however, the surface of the lake would remain
frozen, and was at this time covered with snow.

Not a penguin attempted to build its nest on this island, though many
passed it or walked over it in crossing the lake. How did they realize
that later on they would get dirty every time they journeyed to or from
the spot?

Not far from this island another mound rose from the lake, but this was
connected with the "mainland" by a narrow neck of guano-covered pebbles.
This mound was covered with nests, showing that the birds understood
this place could always be reached over dry land. Surely this was well
worth remarking.

There was a part of the ice-foot on the south side of the rookery where
a track worn by many ascending penguins could be seen, leading from the
sea-ice on to the beach. The place was steep and the ice slippery, and,
in fact, the track led straight up a most difficult ascent. Not ten
yards from this well-worn track a perfectly easy slope led up from the
sea-ice to the rookery. The tracks in the freshly fallen snow showed
that only one penguin had gone up this way. Presumably the first arrival
in that place had taken the difficult path, and all subsequent arrivals
blindly followed in his tracks, whilst only one had had the good luck or
independence to choose the easier way.

On October 21 many thousands of penguins arrived from the northerly
direction, and poured on to the beach in a continuous stream, the snaky
line of arrivals extending unbroken across the sea-ice as far as the eye
could see.

  MILES IN LENGTH (Page 28)]

A great many now started to climb the heights up the precipitous side of
Cape Adare and to build their nests as far as the summit, a height of
some 1000 feet, although there was still room for many thousand more
down below. What could be their object, considering the wearisome
journeys they would have to make to feed their young, it is impossible
to say. It might be the result of the same spirit which made them spread
out in little scattered groups over the rookery when only a few had
arrived, and that they prefer wider room, only putting up with the
greater crowding which ensues later as a necessary evil. There is,
however, another explanation which I will discuss in another place.

At 9 P.M. it was getting dusk, and the rookery comparatively silent,
although on some of the knolls two or three birds might be seen still
busily working, toddling to and fro fetching stones. The other thousands
lay at rest, their white breasts flat on the ground, and only their
black beaks and heads visible as they lay with their chins stretched
forward on the ground, whilst in place of the massed discord of clamour
heard during the day, the separate voices of some of the busy ones were
distinct. A fine powdering of snow was falling.

It would be difficult to estimate the number of penguins that poured
into the rookery during the following day. There was no evidence that
any pairing had taken place on or before the march, and the birds all
had the appearance of being quite independent.

Far away from the beach the line had become thicker, and was no longer
in single file, the progress of the birds being slow and steady, but
when within half a mile or so from the beach, excitement seemed to take
possession of them, and they would break into a run, hastening over the
remaining distance, the line now being a thin one, with slight curves in
it, each bird running, with wide gait, and outstretched flippers working
away in unison with its little legs. In fact, the whole air of the line
at this time was that of a school-treat arrived in sight of its
playing-fields, and breaking into a run in its eagerness to get there.

  [Illustration: Fig. 17. ARRIVING AT THE ROOKERY (Page 28)]

Arrived at the rookery, and plunged suddenly amidst the din of that
squalling, fighting, struggling crowd, the contrast with the dead
silence and loneliness of the pack-ice they had so recently left, was as
great a one as can well be imagined; yet once there, the birds seemed
collected and at home. This was a matter of surprise to me then, but I
remember now my own sensations on arriving home after my life in the
Antarctic, and that I felt only slightly the sudden return to the bustle
of civilization.

Our presence among them made little or no difference to the penguins.
When we passed them closely they would bridle up and swear or even run
at us and peck at our legs or batter them with their flippers, but
unless their nesting operations were interfered with this attack was
short-lived, and the next moment the birds would seem to forget our very
existence. If I walked by the side of a long, nest-covered ridge, a low
growl arose from every bird as I passed it, and the massed sound,
gathering in front and dying away behind as I advanced, reminded me
forcibly of the sound of the crowds on the towing-path at the 'Varsity
boatrace as the crews pass up the river.

Walking actually among the nests, your temper is tried sorely, as every
bird within reach has a peck at your legs, and occasionally a cock
attacks you bravely, battering you with his little flippers in a manner
ludicrous at first but aggravating after a time, as the operation is
painful and severe enough to leave bruises behind it, and naturally this
begins to pall. The courage of these little birds is most remarkable and

Our hut, being built on the rookery, could only be approached through
crowds of penguins. Those that nested near us seemed quickly to become
used to us and to take less notice of us than those farther off. One
thing, however, terrified them pitiably. We had to fetch ice for our
water from some stranded floes on the ice-foot, and this we did in a
little sledge. As we hauled this rattling over the pebbly rookery it
made a good deal of noise, and in its path nests were deserted, the
occupants fleeing in the greatest confusion, a clear road being left for
the sledge, whilst on either side a line of penguins was seen retreating
in the utmost terror. After about a minute, they returned to their
places and seemed to forget the incident, but we were very sorry to
frighten them in this way, as we endeavoured to live at peace with them
and to molest them as little as possible, and we feared that later on
eggs might be spilt from the nests and broken. As time went on, those on
the route of the sledge became accustomed even to this, and we were able
to choose a course which cleared their nests.

  SUMMIT (Page 28)]

Although squabbles and encounters had been frequent since their arrival
in any numbers, it now became manifest that there were two very
different types of battle; first, the ordinary quarrelling consequent on
disputes over nests and the robbery of stones from these, and secondly,
the battles between cocks who fought for the hens. These last were more
earnest and severe, and were carried to a finish, whereas the first
named rarely proceeded to extremes.

In regard to the mating of the birds, the following most interesting
customs seemed to be prevalent.

The hen would establish herself on an old nest, or in some cases scoop
out a hollow in the ground and sit in or by this, waiting for a mate to
propose himself. (Fig. 26.) She would not attempt to build while she
remained unmated. During the first week of the nesting season, when
plenty of fresh arrivals were continually pouring into the rookery, she
did not have long to wait as a rule. Later, when the rookery was getting
filled up, and only a few birds remained unmated in that vast crowd of
some three-quarters of a million, her chances were not so good.

For example, on November 16 on a knoll thickly populated by mated birds,
many of which already had eggs, a hen was observed to have scooped a
little hollow in the ground and to be sitting in this. Day after day she
sat on looking thinner and sadder as time passed and making no attempt
to build her nest. At last, on November 27, she had her reward, for I
found that a cock had joined her, and she was busily building her nest
in the little scoop she had made so long before, her husband steadily
working away to provide her with the necessary pebbles. Her forlorn
appearance of the past ten days had entirely given place to an air of
occupation and happiness.

As time went on I became certain that invariably pairing took place
after arrival at the rookery. On October 23 I went to the place where
the stream of arrivals was coming up the beach, and presently followed a
single bird, which I afterwards found to be a cock, to see what it was
going to do. He threaded his way through nearly the whole length of the
rookery by himself, avoiding the tenanted knolls where the nests were,
by keeping to the emptier hollows. About every hundred yards or so he
stopped, ruffled up his feathers, closed his eyes for a moment, then
"smoothed himself out" and went on again, thus evidently struggling
against desire for sleep after his journey. As he progressed he
frequently poked his little head forward and from side to side, peering
up at the knolls, evidently in search of something.

  [Illustration: Fig. 19. Adélies arriving at the Rookery]

  [Illustration: Fig. 20. A Cock carrying a Stone to his Nest (Page 21)]

Arrived at length at the south end of the rookery, he appeared suddenly
to make up his mind, and boldly ascending a knoll which was well
tenanted and covered with nests, walked straight up to one of these on
which a hen sat. There was a cock standing at her side, but my little
friend either did not see him or wished to ignore him altogether. He
stuck his beak into the frozen ground in front of the nest, lifted up
his head and made as if to place an imaginary stone in front of the hen,
a most obvious piece of dumb show. The hen took not the slightest notice
nor did her mate.

My friend then turned and walked up to another nest, a yard or so off,
where another cock and hen were. The cock flew at him immediately, and
after a short fight, in which each used his flippers savagely, he was
driven clean down the side of the knoll away from the nests, the
victorious cock returning to his hen. The newcomer, with the persistence
which characterises his kind, came straight back to the same nest and
stood close by it, soon ruffling his feathers and evidently settling
himself for a doze, but, I suppose, because he made no further overtures
the others took no notice of him at all, as, overcome by sheer
weariness, he went to sleep and remained so until I was too cold to
await further developments. On my way back to our hut I followed another
cock for about thirty yards, when he walked up to another couple at a
nest and gave battle to the cock. He, too, was driven off after a short
and decisive fight. Soon there were many cocks on the war-path. Little
knots of them were to be seen about the rookery, the lust of battle in
them, watching and fighting each other with desperate jealousy, and the
later the season advanced the more "bersac" they became.

A typical scene I find described in my notes for October 25 when I was
out with my camera, and I mention it as a type of the hundreds that were
proceeding simultaneously over the whole rockery, and also because I was
able to photograph different stages of the proceedings as follows:

Fig. 22 shows a group of three cocks engaged in bitter rivalry round a
hen who is cowering in her scoop in which she had been waiting as is
their custom. She appeared to be bewildered and agitated by the
desperate behaviour of the cocks.

  HERE (Page 43)]

On Fig. 23 a further development is depicted, and two of the cocks are
seen to be squaring up for battle. Close behind and to the right of them
are seen (from left to right) the hen and the third cock, who are
watching to see the result of the contest, and another hen cowering for
protection against a cock with whom she has become established.

Fig. 24 shows the two combatants hard at it, using their weight as they
lean their breasts against one another, and rain in the blows with their
powerful flippers.

Fig. 25 shows the end of the fight, the victor having rushed the
vanquished cock before him out of the crowd and on to a patch of snow on
which, as he was too brave to turn and run, he knocked him down and gave
him a terrible hammering.

When his conqueror left him at length, he lay for some two minutes or so
on the ground, his heaving breast alone showing that he was alive, so
completely exhausted was he, but recovering himself at length he arose
and crawled away, a damaged flipper hanging limply by his side, and he
took no further part in the proceedings. The victorious bird rushed back
up the side of the knoll, and immediately fought the remaining cock, who
had not moved from his original position, putting him to flight, and
chasing him in and out of the crowd, the fugitive doubling and twisting
amongst it in a frantic endeavour to get away, and I quickly lost sight
of them.

Scenes of this kind became so common all over the rookery, that the roar
of battle and thuds of blows could be heard continuously, and of the
hundreds of such fights, all plainly had their cause in rivalry for the

When starting to fight, the cocks sometimes peck at each other with
their beaks, but always they very soon start to use their flippers,
standing up to one another and raining in the blows with such rapidity
as to make a sound which, in the words of Dr. Wilson, resembles that of
a boy running and dragging his hoop-stick along an iron paling. Soon
they start "in-fighting," in which position one bird fights
right-handed, the other left-handed; that is to say, one leans his left
breast against his opponent, swinging in his blows with his right
flippers, the other presenting his right breast and using his left
flipper. My photographs of cocks fighting all show this plainly. It is
interesting to note that these birds, though fighting with one flipper
only, are ambidextrous. Whilst battering one another with might and main
they use their weight at the same time, and as one outlasts the other,
he drives his vanquished opponent before him over the ground, as a
trained boxing man, when "in-fighting" drives his exhausted opponent
round the ring.

  [Illustration: Fig. 22. Three Cocks in Rivalry (See page 38)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 23. Two of the Cocks squaring up for Battle
  (See page 38)]

Desperate as these encounters are, I don't think one penguin ever kills
another. In many cases blood is drawn. I saw one with an eye put out,
and that side of its beak (the right side) clotted with blood, whilst
the crimson print of a blood-stained flipper across a white breast was
no uncommon sight.

Hard as they can hit with their flippers, however, they are also well
protected by their feathers, and being marvellously tough and enduring
the end of a hard fight merely finds the vanquished bird prostrate with
exhaustion and with most of the breath beaten out of his little body.
The victor is invariably satisfied with this, and does not seek to
dispatch him with his beak.

It was very usual to see a little group of cocks gathered together in
the middle of one of the knolls squabbling noisily. Sometimes half a
dozen would be lifting their raucous voices at one particular bird, then
they would separate into pairs, squaring up to one another and
emphasizing their remarks from time to time by a few quick blows from
their flippers. It seemed that each was indignant with the others for
coming and spoiling his chances with a coveted hen, and trying to get
them to depart before he went to her.

It was useless for either to attempt overtures whilst the others were
there, for the instant he did so, he would be set upon and a desperate
fight begin. Usually, as in the case I described above, one of the
little crowd would suddenly "see red" and sail into an opponent with
desperate energy, invariably driving him in the first rush down the side
of the knoll to the open space surrounding it, where the fight would be
fought out, the victor returning to the others, until by his prowess and
force of character, he would rid himself of them all. Then came his
overtures to the hen. He would, as a rule, pick up a stone and lay it in
front of her if she were sitting in her "scoop," or if she were standing
by it he might himself squat in it. She might take to him kindly, or, as
often happened, peck him furiously. To this he would submit tamely,
hunching up his feathers and shutting his eyes while she pecked him
cruelly. Generally after a little of this she would become appeased. He
would rise to his feet, and in the prettiest manner edge up to her,
gracefully arch his neck, and with soft guttural sounds pacify her and
make love to her.

  [Illustration: Fig. 24. "Hard at it" (See page 39)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 25. The End of the Battle (Page 39)]

Both perhaps would then assume the "ecstatic" attitude, rocking their
necks from side to side as they faced one another (Fig. 26), and after
this a perfect understanding would seem to grow up between them, and the
solemn compact was made.

It is difficult to convey in words the daintiness of this pretty little
scene. I saw it enacted many dozens of times, and it was wonderful to
watch one of these hardy little cocks pacifying a fractious hen by the
perfect grace of his manners.

Fig. 21 is particularly instructive. In the centre of the picture a
group of cocks are quarrelling, and on the left-hand side three unmated
hens can be seen sitting in their scoops, whilst two of them (the two in
front) are receiving overtures from two of the cocks who are making the
most of their time whilst the others are fighting. On the right-hand
side another cock is seen proposing himself to a fourth hen who seems to
be meeting his overtures with the usual show of reluctance.

Although for the later arrivals a good deal of fighting was necessary
before a mate could be secured, it seemed that some got the matter fixed
up without any difficulty at all, especially during the earlier days
when only a few birds were scattered widely over the rookery. Later, the
cocks seemed to watch one another jealously, and to hunt in little
batches in consequence. (Figs. 27, 28, and 29.)

From the particulars I have just given it is also evident that a wife
and home once obtained could only be kept by dint of further battling
and constant vigilance during the first stages of domesticity, when
thousands of lusty cocks were pouring into the rookery, and it was not
unusual to see a strange cock paying court to a mated hen in the absence
of her husband until he returned to drive away the interloper, but I do
not think that this ever occurred after the eggs had come and the
regular family life begun, couples after this being perfectly faithful
to one another.

The instance I have given of a newly arrived cock by dumb show
pretending to take a stone and place it before a mated hen, is typical
of the sort of first overture one sees, though more frequently an actual
stone was tendered. While on this subject I had better mention a most
interesting thing which occurred to one of my companions. One day as he
was sitting quietly on some shingle near the ice-foot, a penguin
approached him, and after eyeing him for a little, walked right up to
him and nibbled gently at one of the legs of his wind-proof trousers.
Then it walked away, picked up a pebble, and came back with it, dropping
it on the ground by his side. The only explanation of this occurrence
seems to be that the tendering of the stone was meant as an overture of

  [Illustration: Fig. 26. THE PROPOSAL. (NOTE THE HEN IN HER SCOOP)
  (Pages 35 and 43)]

On October 26 there was no abatement in the stream of arrivals. The
cock-fighting continued, and many of them, temporarily disabled, were to
be seen moping about the rookery, smeared with blood and guano. Often a
hen would join in when two cocks were fighting, occasionally going first
for one and then the other, but I never to my knowledge saw a cock
retaliate on a hen.

Once I saw two cocks fighting, and a hen taking the part of one of the
cocks, the pair of them gave the other a fearful hammering, the hen
using her bill savagely as well as her flippers. Completely knocked out
and gasping for breath he got away at last, only to meet another cock
who fought him and easily beat him. When this one had gone a third came,
and the poor victim with a courage truly noble was squaring himself up
with his last spark of energy, when I interfered and drove away his

The nests on most of the knolls soon became so crowded that their
occupants, by stretching out their necks, could reach their neighbours
without getting up. As every hen appeared to hate her neighbour they
would peck-peck at one another hour after hour, in the manner seen in my
photograph,(3) till their mouths and heads became terribly sore.
Occasionally they would desist, shake their heads apparently from pain,
then at it again.

  (3) Fig. 12.

In various places through the course of these pages, reference is made
to the "ecstatic" attitude of the penguins. This antic is gone through
by both sexes and at various times, though much more frequently during
the actual breeding season. The bird rears its body upward and
stretching up its neck in a perpendicular line, discharges a volley of
guttural sounds straight at the unresponding heavens. At the same time
the clonic movements of its syrinx or "sound box" distinctly can be seen
going on in its throat. Why it does this I have never been able to make
out, but it appears to be thrown into this ecstasy when it is pleased;
in fact, the zoologist of the "Pourquoi Pas" expedition termed it the
"Chant de satisfaction." I suppose it may be likened to the crowing of a
cock or the braying of an ass. When one bird of a pair starts to perform
in this way, the other usually starts at once to pacify it. Very many
times I saw this scene enacted when nesting was in progress. The two
might be squatting by the nest when one would arise to assume the
"ecstatic" attitude and make the guttural sounds in its syrinx.
Immediately the other would get close up to it and make the following
noise in a soft soothing tone:

  [Illustration: A-ah]

Always and immediately this caused the musician to subside and settle
itself down again.

  [Illustration: Fig. 27. Cocks fighting for Hens]

  [Illustration: Fig. 28. Cocks fighting for Hens (Page 44)]

The King penguin at the Zoological Gardens, whose sex is unknown, throws
itself into the ecstatic attitude and sings a sort of song when its
keeper strokes its neck. The blackfooted penguins never do it, though
they breed several times a year. Figs. 26 and 32 show Adélies in
ecstatic attitude.

To-day about a dozen skua gulls (_Megalestris Makormiki_) appeared for
the first time. They did not start to nest, but sat on the sea-ice with
a group of penguins, in apparent amity. A few occasionally flew about
over the rookery.

On October 27 though the stream of arrivals continued there were wide
gaps in it. It appeared to be thinning. For an hour in the forenoon it
stopped altogether, and at the end of this time a storm of wind from the
south struck us and continued for another hour with thick drift.
Probably clear of Cape Adare the wind had been blowing before it reached
us, and had stopped the birds' progress across the ice.

During the storm the rookery was completely silenced, most of the birds
lying with their heads to the wind. A good many skuas arrived that day.
Some chips of white, glistening quartz had been thrown down by our hut
door recently, and later I found two of these chips in a nest about
thirty yards away, showing up brightly against the black basalt of which
all the pebbles on the rookery were composed.

As a rule the penguins were careful to select rounded stones for their
nests, but these fragments of quartz were jagged and uncomfortable, and
most unsuitable for nest building. Thus it was evidently the brightness
of the stones which attracted them. Whilst I looked on, the owners of
the pieces of quartz were wrangling with their neighbours, and a penguin
in a nest behind shot out its beak and stole one of the pieces, placing
it in its own nest. I had brought Campbell out to show him the pieces of
quartz, and he witnessed the last incident with me.

  [Illustration: Fig. 29. Cocks fighting for Hens (Page 44)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 30. Penguin on Nest]

I may here mention an experiment I tried some days later. I painted some
pebbles a bright red and had others covered with bright green cotton
material as I had no other coloured paint. Mixing a handful of these
coloured stones together I placed them in a little heap amongst natural
black ones near a nest-covered knoll. Returning in a few hours I found
nearly all the red stones and one or two of the green ones gone, and
later found them in nests. Later still, all the red ones had
disappeared, and last of all the green ones. I traced nearly all these
to nests, and found a few days later that, like the pieces of white
quartz, they were being stolen from nest to nest and thus slowly being
distributed in different directions. At other times I saw pieces of tin,
pieces of glass, half a stick of chocolate, and the head of a bright
metal teaspoon in different nests near our hut, the articles evidently
having been taken from our scrap-heap. Thus it is evident that penguins
like bright colours and prefer red to green, as instanced by the
selection of the coloured pebbles. I am sorry that I did not carry these
colour tests further.

During October 29 the stream of arrivals was undiminished, but the next
day it slackened considerably, and during the next two days stopped
altogether, all the rising ground of the rookery now being literally
crammed full with nests, several thousands of them being scattered up
the slopes of Cape Adare to a height of a thousand feet.

  [Illustration: Fig. 31. Showing the Position of the Two Eggs]

  [Illustration: Fig. 32. An Adélie in "Ecstatic" Attitude (Page 47)]



Laying and incubation of the eggs : The Adélies' habits in the water :
Their games : Care of the young : The later development of their social

On November 3 several eggs were found, and on the 4th these were
beginning to be plentiful in places, though many of the colonies had not
yet started to lay.

Let me here call attention to the fact that up to now not a single bird
out of all those thousands had left the rookery once it had entered it.
Consequently not a single bird had taken food of any description during
all the most strenuous part of the breeding season, and as they did not
start to feed till November 8 thousands had to my knowledge fasted for
no fewer than twenty-seven days. Now of all the days of the year these
twenty-seven are certainly the most trying during the life of the

With the exception, in some cases, of a few hours immediately after
arrival (and I believe the later arrivals could not afford themselves
even this short respite) constant vigilance had been maintained; battle
after battle had been fought; some had been nearly killed in savage
encounters, recovered, fought again and again with varying fortune. They
had mated at last, built their nests, procreated their species, and, in
short, met the severest trials that Nature can inflict upon mind and
body, and at the end of it, though in many cases blood-stained and in
all caked and bedraggled with mire, they were as active and as brave as

When one egg had been laid the hen still sat on the nest. The egg had to
be continually warmed, and as the temperature was well below
freezing-point, exposure would mean the death of the embryo.

In order to determine the period between the laying of the two eggs, I
numbered seven nests with wooden pegs, writing on the pegs the date on
which each egg was laid. The result obtained is shown on page 53.

The average interval in the four cases where two eggs were laid being
3·5 days.

  [Illustration: Fig. 33. Floods (Page 66)]

No. 7 nest was that of the hen which I mentioned as having waited for so
long for a mate, and the lateness of the date on which the first egg
appeared may have resulted in there being no other.

  |            |    Date of   |    Date of    |             |
  |            |  appearance  |   appearance  |   Interval  |
  |            | of first egg | of second egg |             |
  | No. 1 nest |    Nov. 14   |       --      | Only 1 laid |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 2 nest |    Nov. 13   |    Nov. 16    |    3 days   |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 3 nest |    Nov. 14   |    Nov. 17    |    3 days   |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 4 nest |              |               |             |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 5 nest |    Nov. 12   |    Nov. 16    |    4 days   |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 6 nest |    Nov.  8   |    Nov. 12    |    4 days   |
  |            |              |               |             |
  | No. 7 nest |    Nov. 24   |       --      | Only 1 laid |

The only notes I have on the incubation period are that the first chick
appeared in No. 5 nest on December 19 (incubation period thirty-seven
days) and in No. 7 nest on December 28 (incubation period thirty-four

The skuas had increased considerably in numbers by November 4, and
frequently came to the scrap-heap outside our hut. Here were many frozen
carcasses of penguins which we had thrown there after the breasts had
been removed for food during the past winter. The skuas picked the bones
quite clean of flesh, so that the skeletons lay white under the skins,
and it was remarkable to what distances they sometimes carried the
carcasses, which weighed considerably more than the skuas themselves. I
found some of these bodies over five hundred yards away.

A perpetual feud was carried on between the penguins and the skuas. The
latter birds come to the south in the summer, and make their nests close
to, and in some cases actually among, those of the penguins, and during
the breeding time live almost entirely on the eggs, and later, on the
chicks. They never attack the adult penguins, who run at them and drive
them away when they light within reach, but as the skuas can take to the
wing and the penguins cannot, no pursuit is possible.

  [Illustration: Fig. 34. Flooded]

  [Illustration: Fig. 35. A Nest with Stones of Mixed Sizes]

The skuas fly about over the rookery, keeping only a few yards from the
ground, and should one of them see a nest vacated and the eggs exposed,
if only for a few seconds, it swoops at this, and with scarcely a pause
in its flight, picks up an egg in its beak and carries it to an open
space on the ground, there to devour the contents. Here then was another
need for constant vigilance, and so daring did the skuas become, that
often when a penguin sat on a nest carelessly, so as to leave one of the
eggs protruding from under it, a lightning dash from a skua would result
in the egg being borne triumphantly away.

The bitterness of the penguins' hatred of the skuas was well shown in
the neighbourhood of our scrap-heap. None of the food thrown out on to
this heap was of the least use to the penguins, but we noticed after a
time that almost always there were one or more penguins there, keeping
guard against the skuas, and doing their utmost to prevent them from
getting the food, and never allowing them to light on the heap for more
than a few seconds at a time. In fact, a constant feature of this heap
was the sentry penguin, darting hither and thither, aiming savage pecks
at the skuas, which would then rise a yard or two into the air out of
reach, the penguin squalling in its anger at being unable to follow its
enemy. At this juncture the penguin would imitate the flying motion with
its flappers, seeming instinctively to attempt to mount into the air, as
its remote ancestors doubtlessly did, before their wings had adapted
themselves solely to swimming.

Close to the scrap-heap there was a large knoll crowded with penguins'
nests, and it was this knoll that provided the sentries. Very rarely did
one of these leave the heap until another came to relieve it as long as
there were skuas about, but when the skuas went the penguins left it
too. When the skuas returned, however, and without the lapse of a few
seconds, a penguin would be seen to detach itself from the knoll and run
to guard the heap. That some primitive understanding on this matter
existed among the penguins seems to me probable, because whilst there
were generally one or two guarding the heap, there was never a crowd,
the rest of the knoll seeming quite satisfied as long as one of their
number remained on guard.

In describing the Cape Adare rookery I mentioned the fact that the
pebbles entering into the formation of the beach are basaltic, and
therefore of a dead black shade. The result of this is that as the sun's
altitude increases, heat is absorbed readily by the black rock, through
that clear atmosphere, and the snow upon it rapidly melts.


For a long time the penguins at their nests had satisfied their thirst
by eating the snow near them, but as this disappeared, they suffered
greatly, as was made evident by the way they lay with beaks open and
tongues exposed between them. (Fig. 30.) As time went on the cocks
started to make short journeys to the drifts which still remained in
order to quench their thirst, but the hens stuck manfully, or rather
"henfully" to their posts, though some of them seemed much distressed.
Later, those cocks which had nested in the centre of the rookery had
quite long journeys to make in order to find drifts, a very popular
resort being that which had formed in the lee of our hut, and all day
streams of them came here to gobble snow. Once a cock was seen to take a
lump of snow in his beak and carry it to his mate on the nest, who ate

Mr. Priestley tells me that when he was at Cape Royds in 1908 he saw
cocks taking snow to hens on their nests. This procedure would seem to
be different to the parental instinct which governs the feeding of the
young, and it seemed to show that the cock realized that the hen must be
thirsty and in need of the snow, and kept this fact in mind when he was
away from her. Another point to note is that the occurrence was a very
rare and, in fact, exceptional one.

When conditions arose which were new to their experience the penguins
seemed utterly unable to grasp them.

As an example of this, we had rigged a guide rope from our hut to the
meteorological screen, about fifty yards away, to guide us during
blizzards. This rope, which was supported by poles driven into the
ground, sagged in one place till it nearly touched the ground. At
frequent intervals, penguins on their way past the hut were brought to a
standstill by running their breasts into this sagged rope, and each bird
as it was caught invariably went through the same ridiculous procedure.
First it would push hard against the rope, then finding this of no
avail, back a few steps, walk up to it again and have another push,
repeating the process several times. After this, instead of going a few
feet further along where it could easily walk under the rope, in ninety
per cent. of cases it would turn, and by a wide detour walk right round
the hut the other way, evidently convinced that some unknown obstacle
completely barred its passage on that side. This spectacle was a
continual source of amusement to us as it went on all day and every day
for some time.

  [Illustration: Fig. 37. A Nest on a Rock (See page 71)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 38. "One after another, the rest of the Party
  followed him" (Page 75)]

As penguins' eggs are very good to eat and a great luxury, as well as
being beneficial to men living under Antarctic conditions, we collected
a large number, which we stowed away to freeze. To collect these eggs we
used to set off, carrying a bucket, and walk through the knolls. As we
picked our way, carefully placing our feet in the narrow spaces between
the nests, we were savagely pecked about the legs, as in most positions
at least, these birds could reach us without even leaving the nest,
whilst very often the mates standing near them would sail in at us,
raining in blows with their flippers with the rapidity of a maxim gun.

To search for eggs it was necessary to lift up the occupant of each nest
and look beneath her. If she were tackled from front or flank this was a
painful and difficult business, as she drove at the intruder's hands
with powerful strokes of her sharp beak, but we found that the best way
to set about the matter was to dangle a fur mit in front of her with one
hand, and when she seized this quickly slip the other behind her,
lifting her nether regions from the nest, and at the same time pushing
her gently forward. Immediately she would drop the fur mit, and sticking
her beak into the ground push herself backward with a determined effort
to stay on the nest. So long as the pressure from behind was kept up she
would keep her beak firmly fixed in the ground, and could be robbed at

The egg abstracted, she was then left in peace, on which she would rise
to her feet, look under her for the egg and, finding that it was gone,
ruffle her feathers, and, trembling with indignation, look round for the
robber, seemingly quite unable to realize that we were the guilty ones.
This is typical of the Adélie's attitude towards us. We are beyond their
comprehension, and fear of us, anger at us, curiosity over us, although
frequently shown, are displayed only for a fleeting moment. In a few
minutes she might forget about the incident altogether and quietly
resume her position on the empty nest, but very often she would
violently attack any other bird who might happen to be standing near,
and thus as we filled our buckets we left a line of altercation in our
wake. This, however, was not long lived, and affairs soon settled down
to their normal state, and I believe that in about one minute the affair
was completely forgotten. The penguin, indeed, is in its nature the
embodiment of all that man should be when he explores the Antarctic
regions, ever acting on the principle that it is of no use to worry over
spilt milk.

  [Illustration: Fig. 39. A JOY RIDE (Page 77)]

The comparative size of the penguin's egg is shown in some of my
photographs. Ninety-six eggs averaged 4·56 ounces apiece. They vary in
size from about 6·45 cm. to 7·2 cm. in length, and from 5·0 cm. to
5·5 cm. in breadth, on an average. Both ends are nearly equally rounded,
and of a white chalky texture without, and green within. This green
colour is plainly shown by transmitted light.

When the two have been laid the sitting bird places them one in front of
the other. The rearmost egg is tucked up on the outspread feet, the
foremost lies on the ground, and is covered by the belly of the bird as
it lies forward upon it. (Fig. 31.) By many of the birds a strong
inclination to burrow was displayed, and they seemed very fond of
delving in the soft shingle ledges that were to be found on some parts
of the beach. They did this ostensibly to get small stones for their
nests, but certainly burrowed deeper than they need have done, and
occasionally squatted for some time in little caves that they made in
this way. I noticed the same thing in the drifts when they went to eat
snow, and thought at times that they were going to make underground
nests, but they never did so, though some of the little shingle caves
would have made ideal nesting sites.

By November 7, though many nests were still without eggs, a large number
now contained two, and their owners started, turn and turn about, to go
to the open water leads about a third of a mile distant to feed, and as
a result of this a change began gradually to come over the face of the
rookery. Hitherto the whole ground in the neighbourhood of the nests had
been stained a bright green. This was due to the fasting birds
continually dropping their watery, bile-stained excreta upon it. (The
gall of penguins is bright green.) These excreta practically contained
no solid matter excepting epithelial cells and salts.

The nests themselves are never fouled, the excreta being squirted clear
of them for a distance of a foot or more, so that each nest has the
appearance of a flower with bright green petals radiating from its
centre. Some of the photographs show this well, especially Fig. 30. Even
when the chicks have come and are being sat upon by the parents, this
still holds good, because they lie with their heads under the old bird's
belly and their hindquarters just presenting themselves, so that they
may add their little decorative offerings, petal by petal! Now that the
birds were going to feed, the watery-green stains upon the ground gave
place to the characteristic bright brick-red guano, resulting from their
feeding on the shrimp-like euphausia in the sea; and the colour of the
whole rookery was changed in a few days, though this was first
noticeable, of course, in the region of those knolls which had been
occupied first, and which were now settled down to the peaceable and
regular family life which was to last until the chicks had grown.

  [Illustration: Fig. 40. A KNOT OF PENGUINS ON THE ICE-FOOT (Page 77)]

As this family life became established, law and order reigned to some
extent, and there was a distinct tendency to preserve it, noticeably on
those knolls which had so settled down, and I think the following most
surprising incident bears evidence of what I have said. I quote word for
word from my notes on November 24, 1911:

"This afternoon I saw two cocks (probably) engaged in a very fierce
fight, which lasted a good three minutes. They were fighting with
flippers and bills, one of them being particularly clever with the
latter, frequently seizing and holding his opponent just behind the
right eye whilst he battered him with his flippers.

"After a couple of minutes, during which each had the other down on the
ground several times, three or four other penguins ran up and apparently
tried to stop the fight. This is the only construction I can put on
their behaviour, as time after time they kept running in when the two
combatants clinched, pushing their breasts in between them, but making
no attempt to fight themselves, whilst their more collected appearance
and smooth feathers were in marked contrast to the angry attitudes of
the combatants.

"The fight, which had started on the outskirts of a knoll crowded with
nests, soon edged away to the space outside, and it was here that I (and
Campbell, who was with me) saw the other penguins try to stop it. The
last minute was a very fierce and vindictive 'mill,' both fighting with
all their might, and ended in one of them trying to toboggan away from
his opponent; but he was too exhausted to get any pace on, so that just
as he got into the crowd again he was caught, and both fought for a few
seconds more, when the apparent victor suddenly stopped and ran away.
The other picked himself up and made his way rapidly among the nests,
evidently searching for one in particular.

"Following him, I saw him run up to a nest near the place where the
fight had begun. There was a solitary penguin waiting by this nest,
which was evidently new and not yet completed, and without eggs. The
cock I had followed, ruffled and battered with battle, ran up to the
waiting bird, and the usual side-to-side chatter in the ecstatic
attitude began and continued for half a minute, after which each became
calmer, and I left them apparently reconciled and arranging stones in
the nest.

"This incident was after the usual nature of a dispute between two mates
for a hen, but the pacific interference of the other birds was quite new
to my experience. That it was pacific I am quite convinced, and Campbell
agreed with me that there was no doubt of it. All the nests round about
had eggs under incubation, and the pair in question must have been

  [Illustration: Fig. 41. AN ADÉLIE LEAPING FROM THE WATER (Page 82)]

On returning home I was glad to find that Mr. Bernacchi, who landed at
Cape Adare with the "Southern Cross" expedition, says in his account (p.
131) that he also saw penguins interfering and trying to stop others
from fighting.

Owing to our having several snowfalls without wind, and to the action of
the sun on the black rock, which I have mentioned already, the rookery
became a mass of slush in many places, and in some of the lower-lying
parts actually flooded. In some of these low-lying situations penguins
had unwarily made their nests, and there was one particular little
colony near our hut which was threatened with total extinction from the
accumulation of thaw water. As this trickled down from the higher ground
around them, the occupants of the flooded ground exerted all their
energies to avert this calamity, and from each nest one of its tenants
could be seen making journey after journey for pebbles, which it brought
to the one sitting on the nest, who placed stone after stone in
position, so that as the water rose the little castle grew higher and
higher and kept the eggs dry. One nest in particular I noticed which was
as yet a foot or so clear of the water and on dry ground; but whilst the
hen sat on this, the cock was working most energetically in anticipation
of what was going to happen, and for hours journeyed to and from the
nest, each time wading across the little lake to the other side, where
he was getting the stones.

This scene, which I photographed, is depicted on Fig. 33. In the
right-hand corner of the picture the cock is seen in the act of
delivering another stone to the hen who is waiting to receive it, whilst
some of the nests are actually surrounded by water. Fig. 34 shows
another nest, rising like a little island from a thaw pool, the eggs
being only just above water.

  [Illustration: Fig. 42. ADÉLIE LEAPING FROM THE WATER
  (Page 82)]

Some time ago I mentioned that there were penguins of weak individuality
who allowed others to rob them of their stones, and this was in some
cases very noticeable on the flooded ground, and there were one or two
nests here which had been almost entirely removed by thieving

To quote again from my notes.

"November 10. This evening I saw a hen penguin trying to sit on a nest
with two eggs. The nest had no stones, and was scooped deeply in the
ground in a slush of melting snow, so that the eggs were nearly covered
with water. The poor hen stood in the water and kept trying to squat
down on the eggs, but each time she did so, sat in the water and had to
get up again. She was shivering with cold and all bedraggled.

"I took the two eggs out of the nest, and Browning and I collected a
heap of stones (partly from her richer neighbours!) and built the nest
well up above the water. Then I replaced the eggs, and the hen at once
gladly sat on them, put them in position, and was busily engaged in
arranging the new stones round her when we left."

One day, when the season was well advanced, I saw a violent altercation
taking place between two penguins, one of which was in possession of a
nest in a somewhat isolated position. The other evidently was doing his
utmost to capture the nest, as whenever he got the other off, he stood
on it. There were scarcely any stones in the nest, which contained one
egg. I think from the way they fought that both were cocks.

For two reasons I make special mention of the occurrence, first, because
of all the fights I ever saw this was the longest and most relentless,
and, secondly, because the nest being in such an isolated position it
seemed curious that there could be any mistake about its ownership.
Such, however, seemed to be the case, and hour after hour, during the
whole day, they fought again and again.

After each bout of a few minutes both birds became so exhausted that
they sank panting to the ground, evidently suffering from thirst and at
the limit of their endurance. Sometimes one captured the nest, sometimes
the other, but after several hours of this, one of them began to show
signs of outlasting the other, and kept possession. For long after this,
however, the other returned repeatedly to the attack.

  (Page 82)]

I fetched my camera and photographed the birds as they fought (Fig. 36).
As time went on, the weaker bird took longer and longer intervals to
recover between his attacks, lying on his breast, with his head on the
snow and eyes half closed, so that I thought he was going to die. Each
time he got to his feet and staggered at his enemy, the latter rose from
the nest and met him, only to drive him back again. When I saw them at
about 10 P.M. (it was perpetual daylight now) both were lying down, the
victor on the nest, the vanquished about five yards off. The next day
one bird remained on the nest and the other had gone, and I do not know
what happened to him.

In the course of a walk through the rookery considerable diversity in
the choice of nesting sites was to be noticed. The general tendency is
for the penguins to build their nests close together (within a foot or
two of one another) on the tops of the rounded knolls, the lower levels
being left untenanted.

The most thickly populated districts were to be found on the screes
immediately below the cliffs. These screes having been formed in the
first instance by the falling of fragments due to weathering of the
cliff, their substance is still added to, little by little, as time goes
on, and therefore many are killed annually by falling rocks, as is
mentioned elsewhere, but weighing against this danger is the advantage
the cliff offers as a shelter from the E.S.E. gales. The same applies to
the nesting sites up the cliff, but I am convinced that only the love of
climbing can account for the extraordinary positions chosen by some of
the birds. Some of the nests are so difficult of access that their
occupants, on their way to them, may be seen sliding backwards down the
little glazed snow-slopes several times before they accomplish the
ascent, whilst in other places they have to jump from one foothold to
another along the almost perpendicular cliff.

Even up these heights a tendency to grouping is seen, though there are a
fair number of individuals who, seeming to seek seclusion, make their
nests at some distance from the others. I noticed this in some places
along the shore, too, where solitary nests were to be seen on isolated
patches of shingle.

When I visited Cape Royds in 1911 I found a couple nesting alone in a
cove known as "Black Sand Beach," some half mile from the rookery there.
Such isolation as this, however, is very unusual, and was quite a
departure from the regular custom of the species.


In some places at Cape Adare, large rocks some two or three feet in
height stood about the rookery. Whenever the summit of one of these was
accessible, a pair built their nest upon it,(4) though how they managed
to keep up there during the gales was a matter for wonder, but the proud
possessors of the castle evidently had a delight in their lofty
position. One nest had been made on an old packing-case left by the
expedition which wintered there in 1894, and several nested among the
weathering bones of the seals that had died on the beach.

  (4) Fig. 37.

Although the greatest care had been taken by nearly all in the choice of
sites that would be on dry ground when the thaw came later in the
season, yet a few hens had gone to the other extreme, and with greatest
stupidity chosen their site right down in the hollows where they were
absolutely certain to be flooded later on. These stupid ones are thus
prevented from rearing their young, and so selection keeps the wiser for
future generations, and eliminates the less intelligent from the
community, though perhaps some of these learn by experience, and next
year use more discrimination in choosing their nesting place.

Some of the colonies--in fact, most of them--were orderly and well
arranged, and later in the season distinctly peaceful. Others, however,
presented a less respectable appearance. There was one in particular,
close to our hut, which could only be described as a slum of the meanest
description. All through the season there was more fighting in this
colony than anywhere else, and so remarkable was this, that we
christened the locality "Casey's Court" and the name stuck for the rest
of the year.

The nests had fewer stones than elsewhere, and were more untidily made,
and when the eggs came, owing to the constant fighting that went on,
most of them got spilt from the nests or broken, and very few chicks
were hatched in consequence, the mortality among them also being so
great that of the whole colony of some hundred nests, I do not think
more than forty or fifty chicks at most reached maturity. The
explanation of this state of things lay, I believe, in the fact that our
hut and its curtilage deflected the stream of penguins on their way past
the spot from the water to the back of the rookery, so that a constant
stream of them passed through "Casey's Court," upsetting the tempers of
the inhabitants so that they became disorderly. In addition to this,
there was a fairly big thaw pool and much miry ground near by, so that
the inhabitants were generally covered with mud and very disreputable to
look at.

  [Illustration: Fig. 45. DIVING FLAT INTO SHALLOW WATER (Page 83)]

During the fasting season, as none of the penguins had entered the
water, they all became very dirty and disreputable in appearance, as
well may be imagined considering the life they led, but now that they
went regularly to swim, they immediately got back their sleek and
spotless state.

From the ice-foot to the open water, the half mile or so of sea-ice
presented a lively scene as the thousands of birds passed to and fro
over it, outward bound parties of dirty birds from the rookery passing
the spruce bathers, homeward bound after their banquet and frolic in the
sea. So interesting and instructive was it to watch the bathing parties,
that we spent whole days in this way.

As I have said before, the couples took turn and turn about on the nest,
one remaining to guard and incubate while the other went off to the

On leaving their nests, the birds made their way down the ice-foot on to
the sea-ice. Here they would generally wait about and join up with
others until enough had gathered together to make up a decent little
party, which would then set off gaily for the water. They were now in
the greatest possible spirits, chattering loudly and frolicking with one
another, and playfully chasing each other about, occasionally indulging
in a little friendly sparring with their flippers.

Arrived at length at the water's edge, almost always the same procedure
was gone through. The object of every bird in the party seemed to be to
get one of the others to enter the water first. They would crowd up to
the very edge of the ice, dodging about and trying to push one another
in. Sometimes those behind nearly would succeed in pushing the front
rank in, who then would just recover themselves in time, and rushing
round to the rear, endeavour to turn the tables on the others.
Occasionally one actually would get pushed in, only to turn quickly
under water and bound out again on to the ice like a cork shot out of a
bottle. Then for some time they would chase one another about, seemingly
bent on having a good game, each bird intent on finding any excuse from
being the first in. Sometimes this would last a few minutes, sometimes
for the better part of an hour, until suddenly the whole band would
change its tactics, and one of the number start to run at full tilt
along the edge of the ice, the rest following closely on his heels,
until at last he would take a clean header into the water. One after
another the rest of the party followed him (Fig. 38), all taking off
exactly from the spot where he had entered, and following one another so
quickly as to have the appearance of a lot of shot poured out of a
bottle into the water. The accompanying photograph presents this last

  [Illustration: Fig. 46. DIVING FLAT INTO SHALLOW WATER (Page 83)]

A dead silence would ensue till a few seconds later, when they would all
come to the surface some twenty or thirty yards out, and start rolling
about and splashing in the water, cleaning themselves and making sounds
exactly like a lot of boys calling out and chaffing one another.

So extraordinary was this whole scene, that on first witnessing it we
were overcome with astonishment, and it seemed to us almost impossible
that the little creatures, whose antics we were watching, were actually
birds and not human beings. Seemingly reluctant as they had been to
enter the water, when once there they evinced every sign of enjoyment,
and would stay in for hours at a time.

As may be imagined, the penguins spent a great deal of time on their way
to and from the water, especially during the earlier period before the
sea-ice had broken away from the ice-foot, as they had so far to walk
before arriving at the open leads.

As a band of spotless bathers returning to the rookery, their white
breasts and black backs glistening with a fine metallic lustre in the
sunlight, met a dirty and bedraggled party on its way out from the
nesting ground, frequently both would stop, and the clean and dirty
mingle together and chatter with one another for some minutes. If they
were not speaking words in some language of their own, their whole
appearance belied them, and as they stood, some in pairs, some in groups
of three or more, chattering amicably together, it became evident that
they were sociable animals, glad to meet one another, and, like many
men, pleased with the excuse to forget for a while their duties at home,
where their mates were waiting to be relieved for their own spell off
the nests.

After a variable period of this intercourse, the two parties would
separate and continue on their respective ways, a clean stream issuing
from the crowd in the direction of the rookery, a dirty one heading off
towards the open water, but here it was seen that a few who had bathed
and fed, and were already perhaps half-way home, had been persuaded to
turn and accompany the others, and so back they would go again over the
way they had come, to spend a few more hours in skylarking and splashing
about in the sea.

  [Illustration: Fig. 47. DIVING FLAT INTO SHALLOW WATER (Page 83)]

In speaking of these games of the penguins, I wish to lay emphasis on
the fact that these hours of relaxation play a large part in their lives
during the advanced part of the breeding period. They would spend hours
in playing at a sort of "touch last" on the sea-ice near the water's
edge. They never played on the ground of the rookery itself, but only on
the sea-ice and the ice-foot and in the water, and I may here mention
another favourite pastime of theirs. I have said that the tide flowed
past the rookery at the rate of some five or six knots. Small ice-floes
are continually drifting past in the water, and as one of these arrived
at the top of the ice-foot, it would be boarded by a crowd of penguins,
sometimes until it could hold no more. (Fig. 39.) This "excursion boat,"
as we used to call it, would float its many occupants down the whole
length of the ice-foot, and if it passed close to the edge, those that
rode on the floes would shout at the knots of penguins gathered along
the ice-foot (Fig. 40) who would shout at them in reply, so that a gay
bantering seemed to accompany their passage past the rookery.

Arrived at the farther end, some half a mile lower down, those on the
"excursion boat" had perforce to leave it, all plunging into the tide
and swimming against this until they came to the top again, then boarded
a fresh floe for another ride down. All day these floes, often crowded
to their utmost capacity, would float past the rookery. Often a knot of
hesitating penguins on the ice-foot, on being hailed by a babel of
voices from a floe, would suddenly make the plunge, and all swim off to
join their friends for the rest of the journey, and I have seen a floe
so crowded that as a fresh party boarded it on one side, many were
pushed off the other side into the water by the crush.

Once, as we stood watching the penguins bathing, one of them popped out
of the water on to the ice with a large pebble in its mouth, which it
had evidently fetched from the bottom. This surprised me, as the depth
of the sea here was some ten fathoms at least. The bird simply dropped
the stone on the ice and then dived in again, so that evidently he had
gone to all the trouble of diving for the stone simply for the pleasure
of doing it. Mr. J. H. Gurney, in his book on the gannet, says they
(gannets) are said to have got themselves entangled in fishing-nets at a
depth of 180 ft. and that their descent to a depth of 90 ft. is quite
authentic, so that perhaps the depth of this penguin's dive was not an
unusual one.

  [Illustration: Fig. 48. Diving Flat]

  [Illustration: Fig. 49. Adélies "Porpoising" (Page 80)]

The tide at the open water leads where they bathed ran a good six knots,
but the Adélies swam quite easily against this without leaving the

In the water, as on the land, they have two means of progression. The
first is by swimming as a duck swims, excepting that they lie much lower
in the water than a duck does, the top of the back being submerged, so
that the neck sticks up out of the water. As their feet are very
slightly webbed, they have not the advantages that a duck or gull has
when swimming in this way, but supplement their foot-work by short quick
strokes of their flippers. This they are easily able to do, owing to the
depth to which the breast sinks in the water.

The second method is by "porpoising."

This consists in swimming under water, using the wings or "flippers" for
propulsion, the action of these limbs being practically the same as they
would be in flying. As their wings are beautifully shaped for swimming,
and their pectoral muscles extraordinarily powerful, they attain great
speed, besides which they are as nimble as fish, being able completely
to double in their tracks in the flash of a moment. In porpoising, after
travelling thirty feet or so under water, they rise from it, shooting
clean out with an impetus that carries them a couple of yards in the
air, then with an arch of the back they are head first into the water
again, swimming a few more strokes, then out again, and so on.

I show a photograph of them doing this (Fig. 49).

Perhaps the most surprising feat of which the Adélie is capable is seen
when it leaps from the water on to the ice. We saw this best later in
the year when the sea-ice had broken away from the ice-foot, so that
open water washed against the ice cliff bounding the land. This little
cliff rose sheer from the water at first, but later, by the action of
the waves, was under-cut for some six feet or more in places, so that
the ledge of ice at the top hung forwards over the water. The height of
most of this upper ledge varied from three to six feet.

  [Illustration: Fig. 50. A PERFECT DIVE INTO DEEP WATER (Page 83)]

Whilst in the water the penguins usually hunted and played in parties,
just as they had entered it, though a fair number of solitary
individuals were also to be seen. When a party had satisfied their
appetites and their desire for play, they would swim to a distance of
some thirty to forty yards from the ice-foot, when they might be seen
all to stretch their necks up and take a good look at the proposed
landing-place. Having done this, every bird would suddenly disappear
beneath the surface, not a ripple showing which direction they had
taken, till suddenly, sometimes in a bunch, sometimes in a stream, one
after the other they would all shoot out of the water, clean up on to
the top of the ice-foot. (Figs. 41 and 42.) Several times I measured the
distance from the surface of the water to the ledge on which they
landed, and the highest leap I recorded was exactly five feet. The "take
off" was about four feet out from the edge, the whole of the necessary
impetus being gained as the bird approached beneath the water.

The most important thing to note about this jumping from the water was
the accuracy with which they invariably rose at precisely the right
moment, the exact distance being judged during their momentary survey of
a spot from a distance, before they dived beneath the water, and carried
in their minds as they approached the ice. I am sure that this
impression was all they had to guide them, as with a ripple on the
water, and at the pace they were going, they could not possibly have
seen their landing-place at all clearly as they approached it, besides
which, in many cases, the ledge of ice on which they landed projected
many feet forwards from the surface, yet I never saw them misjudge their
distance so as to come up under the overhanging ledge.

During their approach they swam at an even distance of about three or
four feet beneath the surface, projecting themselves upwards by a sudden
upward bend of the body, at the same time using their tail as a helm, in
the manner well shown in one of my photographs, in which one of the
birds is seen in the air at the moment it left the water, the tail being
bent sharply up towards the back.

Their quickness of perception is shown very well as they land on the
ice. If the surface is composed of snow, and so affords them a good
foothold, they throw their legs well forward and land on their feet, as
shown in Figs. 41 and 42, but should they find themselves landing on a
slippery ice-surface, they throw themselves forward, landing on their
breasts in the tobogganing position as shown in Fig. 43.

The Adélies dive very beautifully. We did not see this at first, before
the sea-ice had gone out, because to enter the water they had only to
drop a few inches, but later, when entering from the ice terraces, we
constantly saw them making the most graceful dives.


At the place where they most often went in, a long terrace of ice about
six feet in height ran for some hundreds of yards along the edge of the
water, and here, just as on the sea-ice, crowds would stand near the
brink. When they had succeeded in pushing one of their number over, all
would crane their necks over the edge (Fig. 44), and when they saw the
pioneer safe in the water, the rest followed.

When diving into shallow water they fall flat (Figs. 45, 46, and 47),
but into deep water, and from any considerable height, they assume the
most perfect positions (Fig. 50) and make very little splash.
Occasionally we saw them stand hesitating to dive at a height of some
twenty feet, but generally they descended to some lower spot, and did
not often dive from such a height, but twelve feet was no uncommon dive
for them.

The reluctance shown by each individual of a party of intending bathers
to be the first to enter the water may partly have been explained when,
later on, we discovered that a large number of sea-leopards were
gathered in the sea in the neighbourhood of the rookery to prey on the
penguins. These formidable animals, of which I show some photographs,
used to lurk beneath the overhanging ledges of the ice-foot, out of
sight of the birds on the ice overhead. (Fig. 51.) They lay quite still
in the water, only their heads protruding, until a party of Adélies
would descend into the water almost on top of them, when with a sudden
dash and snap of their great formidable jaws, they would secure one of
the birds.

It seemed to me then, that all the chivvying and preliminaries which
they went through before entering the water, arose mainly from a desire
on the part of each penguin to get one of its neighbours to go in first
in order to prove whether the coast was clear or not, though all this
manoeuvring was certainly taken very lightly, and quite in the nature of
a game. This indeed was not surprising, for of all the animals of which
I have had any experience, I think the Adélie penguin is the very
bravest. The more we saw of them the fonder we became of them and the
more we admired their indomitable courage. The appearance of a
sea-leopard in their midst was the one thing that caused them any panic.
With dozens of these enemies about they would gambol in the sea in the
most light-hearted manner, but the appearance of one among them was the
signal for a stampede, but even this was invariably gone through in an
orderly manner with some show of reason, for, porpoising off in a clump,
they at once spread themselves out, scattering in a fan-shaped formation
as they sped away, instead of all following the same direction.

  [Illustration: Fig. 52. A SEA-LEOPARD'S HEAD (Page 87)]

As far as I could judge, however, the sea-leopards are a trifle faster
in the water than the Adélies, as one of them occasionally would catch
up with one of the fugitives, who then, realizing that speed alone would
not avail him, started dodging from side to side, and sometimes swam
rapidly round and round in a circle of about twelve feet diameter for a
full minute or more, doubtless knowing that he was quicker in turning
than his great heavy pursuer, but exhaustion would overtake him in the
end, and we could see the head and jaws of the great sea-leopard rise to
the surface as he grabbed his victim. The sight of a panic-stricken
little Adélie tearing round and round in this manner was a sadly common
sight late in the season.

Sea-leopards are no mean customers and should be treated with caution.
Commander Campbell and I used to hunt them from a little Norwegian pram
(a species of dinghy) which we rowed quietly up and down close under the
ice-foot, shooting at the sea-leopards with a rifle when we saw their
heads above water.

One day we had an interesting little adventure. We had shot and killed
one, a fine bull about ten feet long, which had sunk to the bottom in
some five fathoms. Having just pulled away from him, we were about ten
yards from the ice-foot, when another very large sea-leopard overtook
us, swimming from the direction of the dead bull. It passed under the
pram, bumping against the keel in doing so. When about ten yards ahead
of us it turned and made straight back for us, but as we were bows-on to
it, it came right alongside the boat, churning up the water and wetting
us. At this moment it turned on its side, its right fore-flipper beating
the surface and its belly towards us, and was just starting to rear its
head up when we both lunged at it with our paddles, and so pushed the
little boat away from it. This brought us alongside the ice-foot, from
which Campbell got a shot at it half a minute later, and wounded it in
the neck. The moment after we lunged at it with our paddles it dived,
then reappeared ten or fifteen yards off, rearing its head out of the
water, and it was at this moment that Campbell shot it. After this it
reappeared several times at the surface, but drifted away with the tide
and we lost it.

  [Illustration: Fig. 53. A Sea-Leopard 10 ft. 6½ ins. long]

  [Illustration: Fig. 54. A Young Sea-Leopard on Sea-Ice (Page 87)]

The sea-leopard has not a reputation for attacking men in boats, and
this one may have been actuated by curiosity merely, but in favour of
its meaning to attack us were, first, that it came to us straight from
the direction of the dead bull we had shot, and secondly, that it seems
hardly likely that after bumping against our keel, mere curiosity could
have tempted it to come back and try to look over the gunwale! As a rule
we had to drift very quietly along when hunting sea-leopards, as the
slightest sound frightened them away.

All that we could do to protect our friends was to shoot as many of
these sea-leopards as possible but though we may have made some
difference, there were always many about.

Some idea of the depredations committed by these animals may be gathered
from the fact that in the stomach of one which we shot I found the
bodies of eighteen penguins, in various stages of digestion, the beast's
intestines being literally stuffed with the feathers remaining from the
disintegration of many more. Photographs of these animals are seen in
Figs. 52, 53, and 54.

Though the actual presence of a sea-leopard put the Adélies to
confusion, causing them to "porpoise" madly away for a few hundred
yards, yet once away from the immediate neighbourhood of the arch enemy,
they appeared to think no more of him, and behaved as though there were
no further need for anxiety, though probably they kept a sharp look-out
nevertheless. Evidence goes to show that the sea-leopard is the only
living enemy, excepting man, that threatens the life of the adult Adélie

One day, as I watched some hundreds of Adélies bathing in an open lead,
suddenly the back of an enormous killer-whale (_Orca gladiator_) rose
above the surface as it crossed the lead from side to side, appearing
from beneath the ice on one side and disappearing beneath it on the
other. To my surprise, not the slightest fear was shown by the birds in
the water. Had this beast been a sea-leopard, there would have been a
stampede, and every bird have leapt from the water on to the sea-ice. On
this evidence I formed the opinion that in all probability killer-whales
do no harm to Adélie penguins; later I saw it confirmed, when a school
of killers shaved close past several floes that were crowded with
Adélies, and made not the least attempt to get at them, as they might so
easily have done by upsetting the floes. Very probably this is because
the agile bird can escape with such ease from the ponderous whale, and
fears it no more than a terrier fears a cow, though he thinks twice
before coming within reach of its jaws.


When the sea-ice had gone out, leaving open water right up to the
ice-foot, a ledge of ice was left along the western side of the rookery,
forming a sort of terrace or "front," with its sides composed of blue
ice, rising sheer out of the water to a height of some six feet or more
in places. From this point of vantage it was possible to stand and watch
the penguins as they swam in the clear water below, and some idea was
formed of their wonderful agility when swimming beneath the surface. As
they propelled themselves along with powerful strokes of their wings,
they swerved from side to side to secure the little prawn-like euphausia
which literally swarm everywhere in the Antarctic seas, affording them
ample food at all times. Their gluttonous habits here became very
evident. They would gobble euphausia until they could hold no more, only
to vomit the whole meal into the water as they swam, and so enlightened
start to feast again. As they winged their way along, several feet
beneath the surface, a milky cloud would suddenly issue from their
mouths and drift slowly away down stream, as, without the slightest
pause in their career, they dashed eagerly along in the hunt for more.

When a penguin returned to his mate on the nest, after his jaunt in the
sea, much formality had to be gone through before he was allowed to take
charge of the eggs. This ceremony of "relieving guard" almost invariably
was observed.

Going up to his mate, with much graceful arching of his neck, he
appeared to assure her in guttural tones of his readiness to take charge
(Fig. 55). At this she would become very agitated, replying with raucous
staccato notes, and refusing to budge from her position on the eggs.
Then both would become angry for a while, arguing in a very heated
manner, until at last she would rise, and, standing by the side of the
nest, allow him to walk on to it, which he immediately did, and after
carefully placing the eggs in position, sink down upon them, afterwards
thrusting his bill beneath his breast to push them gently into a
comfortable position. After staying by him for a little while, the other
at length would go off to bathe and feed.

  [Illustration: Fig. 56. "The Chicks began to appear"
  (A Typical Group of Nests)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 57. An Adélie being Sick (Page 94)]

The length of time during which each bird was away varied considerably,
but a "watch bill" was kept of one particular pair with the following

  (5) This "watch-bill" was kindly kept for me by Mr. Priestly on his
  meteorological rounds, the nests being near the thermometer screen.

Nov. 14. Egg laid. Hen sitting.

Nov. 27. A cock seen to join the hen for the first time since the 14th.
He took her place on the nest. This was the first day on which any red
guano was seen about the nest.

Dec. 10. The hen returned between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M., having been absent
since November 27. Fresh red guano: the first for many days.

Dec. 14. The cock relieved the hen between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M.

Dec. 15. The hen relieved the cock between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M. Between 6
P.M. and 8 P.M. the chick was hatched, the hen remaining on the nest.

Dec. 17. At 8 A.M. the cock was found to have relieved the hen.

Dec. 18. Hen mounted guard between 6 P.M. and 8 P.M.

Dec. 20. Cock relieved guard about 8 A.M. At 8 P.M. both cock and hen
were at the nest, the hen standing by it, the cock on it.

Dec. 21. The hen relieved guard at 8 P.M.

Dec. 23. Cock came back at noon and relieved guard.

Dec. 24. The cock remained on guard all day. The hen was gone from 1
P.M. till 6 P.M., when she returned and relieved guard.

Dec. 25. 8 A.M. Both at nest, hen still on. 10 A.M. changed guard. Hen

Dec. 26. Hen on nest. Cock standing near.

Dec. 27. 8 A.M. Cock on nest.

Dec. 28. 8 A.M. Hen on nest.

Dec. 29. Cock relieved guard.

Dec. 30. Hen arrived 3 P.M. and relieved guard.

Dec. 31. 10 P.M. to midnight, changed, cock on. Both there at 10 P.M.

Jan. 1. 10 A.M. Both at nest. 12 noon. Both at nest. The youngster
complicating matters by running away every time he was passed by the
observer, thus getting himself and his parents embroiled with the

Jan. 1. 2 P.M. Hen on nest. Cock gone.

Jan. 2. 10 A.M. Hen on nest. 12 noon. Chick disappeared. 2 P.M. Nest
deserted. 4 P.M. Cock on nest. No chick. 8 P.M. Cock on nest. No chick.

Jan. 3. Cock on the nest with the chick.

  [Illustration: Fig. 58. METHOD OF FEEDING THE YOUNG (Page 94)]

From the above Table it will be seen that the hen was not relieved by
the cock until a fortnight after she had laid her egg (in this case
there was only one) so that probably she had been without food for a
month. Then she left, and only returned to relieve the cock after the
lapse of another fortnight, it being worth remarking that each was
absent for the same length of time. When the chick was hatched, a
different régime began, as of course the chick had to be fed and
journeys to the sea made at regular intervals for the purpose of getting

When the chicks began to appear all over the rookery (Fig. 56), a marked
change was noticed in the appearance of the parents as they made their
way on foot from the water's edge to the nests. Hitherto they had been
merely remarkable for their spotless and glistening plumage, but now
they were bringing with them food for the young, and so distended were
their stomachs with this, that they had to lean backward as they walked,
to counterbalance their bulging bellies, and in consequence frequently
tripped over the inequalities of the ground which were thus hidden from
their gaze.

What with the exertion of tramping with their burden across the rookery,
and perhaps on rare occasions one or two little disputes with other
penguins by the way, frequently they were in some distress before they
reached their destination, and quite commonly they would be sick and
bring up the whole offering before they got there. Consequently, little
red heaps of mashed up and half digested euphausia were to be seen about
the rookery. Once I saw a penguin, after he had actually reached the
nest, quite unable to wait for the chick to help itself in the usual
manner, deposit the lot upon the ground in front of his mate. I saw what
was coming and secured the accompanying photograph of the incident.
(Fig. 57.) When this happens the food is wasted, as neither chick nor
adult will touch it however hungry they may be, the former only feeding
by the natural method of pushing his head down the throat of a parent,
and so helping himself direct from the gullet. (Fig. 58.)

  [Illustration: Fig. 59. PROFILE OF AN ADÉLIE CHICK (Page 95)]

When the chicks are small they are kept completely covered by the parent
who sits on the nest. They grow, however, at an enormous rate, gobbling
vast quantities of food as it is brought to them, their elastic bellies
seeming to have no limit to their capacity (Fig. 59); indeed, when
standing, they rest on a sort of tripod, formed by the protuberant belly
in front and the two feet behind.

I weighed a chick at intervals for some time, and this was the
astonishing result:


  The egg                     4·56
  The chick when hatched      3·00
  Five days old              13·00
  Six      "                 15·75
  Eight    "                 24·75
  Nine     "                 28·50
  Eleven   "                 37·75
  Twelve   "                 42·50

To see an Adélie chick of a fortnight's growth trying to get itself
covered by its mother is a most ludicrous sight. The most it can hope
for is to get its head under cover, the rest of its body being exposed
to the air; but the downy coat of the chick is close and warm, and
suffices in all weathers to protect it from the cold. Fig. 60
illustrates what I have said very well, whilst Fig. 61 shows a mother
with a chick twelve days old.

Whilst the chicks are small the two parents manage to keep them fed
without much difficulty;(6) but as one of them has always to remain at
the nest to keep the chicks warm, guard them from skuas and hooligan
cocks, and prevent them from straying, only one is free to go for food.
Later on, however, two other factors introduce themselves. The first of
these is that the chick's downy coats become thick enough to protect
them from cold without the warmth of the parent; and the second that as
the chicks grow they require an ever-increasing quantity of food, and at
the age of about a fortnight this demand becomes too great for one bird
to cope with. At this time it is still necessary to prevent the chicks
from straying and to protect them from the skuas and "hooligans," and so
to meet these two demands a most interesting social system is developed.
The individual care of the chicks by their parents is abandoned, and in
place of this, colonies start to "pool" their offspring, which are
herded together into clumps or "crèches," each of which is guarded by a
few old birds, the rest being free to go and forage.

  (6) Fig. 62.

  [Illustration: Fig. 60. A TASK BECOMING IMPOSSIBLE (Page 95)]

It is quite likely that if a chick which has escaped from its own crèche
joins another crèche it will get fed there, as it seems hardly possible
for the adults to recognize the individuals of so large a gathering and
to detect a stranger should one turn up, but there is good reason to
believe that the old birds work for their own crèches only, and remain
faithful to them for the rest of the season, because, as they make their
way across the rookery, laden with the food they are bringing from the
sea, it is sadly common to see them pursued by strayed and starving
youngsters, plaintively piping their prayers for a meal; and these
appeals are always made in vain, the old birds turning a deaf ear to the
youngsters, who at last, weary and weak, give up the pursuit, and in the
end fall a prey to the ever-watchful skuas. Further evidence is found in
the fact that the chicks at the very back of the rookery and up at the
top of the Cape are just as well nourished as those nearer the water,
who are constantly passed by a stream of food-laden parents.

Twice already I have mentioned that strayed chicks fall a prey to
"hooligan" cocks. These hang about the rookery often in little bands. At
the beginning of the season there are very few of them, but later they
increase greatly, do much damage, and cause a great deal of annoyance to
the peaceful inhabitants. The few to be found at first probably are
cocks who have not succeeded in finding mates, and consequently are "at
a loose end." Later on, as their numbers are so greatly increased, they
must be widowers, whose mates have lost their lives in one way or

Many of the colonies, especially those nearer the water, are plagued by
little knots of "hooligans," who hang about their outskirts, and should
a chick go astray it stands a good chance of losing its life at their
hands. The crimes which they commit are such as to find no place in this
book, but it is interesting indeed to note that, when nature intends
them to find employment, these birds, like men degenerate in idleness.

Some way back I made some allusion to the way in which many of the
penguins were choosing sites up the precipitous sides of the Cape at the
back of the rookery. Later I came to the conclusion that this was purely
the result of their love of climbing. There was one colony at the very
summit of the Cape,(7) whose inhabitants could only reach their nests by
a long and trying climb to the top and then a walk of some hundred yards
across a steep snow slope hanging over the very brink of a sheer drop of
seven hundred feet on to the sea-ice.

  (7) Fig. 70.

  [Illustration: Fig. 61. ADÉLIE WITH CHICK TWELVE DAYS OLD (Page 96)]

During the whole of the time when they were rearing their young, these
mountaineers had to make several journeys during each twenty-four hours
to carry their enormous bellyfuls of euphausia all the way from the sea
to their young on the nests--a weary climb for their little legs and
bulky bodies. The greater number who had undertaken this did so at a
time when there were ample spaces unoccupied in the most eligible parts
of the rookery.

I have mentioned that large masses of ice were stranded by the sea along
the shores of the rookery. These fragments of bergs, some of them
fifteen to twenty feet in height, formed a miniature mountain range
along the shore. All day parties of penguins were to be seen assiduously
climbing the steep sides of this little range. Time after time, when
half way up, they would descend to try another route, and often when
with much pains one had scaled a slippery incline, he would come sliding
to the bottom, only to pick himself up and have another try. (Fig. 63.)

Generally, this climbing was done by small parties who had clubbed
together, as they generally do, from social inclination. It was not
unusual for a little band of climbers to take as much as an hour or more
over climbing to the summit. Arrived at the top they would spend a
variable period there, sometimes descending at once, sometimes spending
a considerable time there, gazing contentedly about them, or peering
over the edge to chatter with other parties below.

Again, about half a mile from the beach, a large berg some one hundred
feet in height was grounded in fairly deep water, accessible at first
over the sea-ice, but later, when this had gone, surrounded by open
water. Its sides were sheer except on one side, which sloped steeply
from the water's edge to the top.

From the time when they first went to the sea to feed until the end of
the season, there was a continual stream of penguins ascending and
descending the berg. As I watched them through glasses I saw that they
had worn deep paths in the snow from base to summit. They had absolutely
nothing to gain by going to all this trouble but the pleasure they
seemed to derive from the climb, and when at the top, merely had a good
look round and came down again.

  [Illustration: Fig. 62. A COUPLE WITH THEIR CHICKS (Page 96)]

When the birds were arriving at the rookery I watched for those who were
to nest up the cliff, and several times saw birds on arriving at the
rookery make for the heights without any hesitation, threading their way
almost in a straight line through the nests to the screes at the bottom
of the cliff, and up these to one or other of the paths leading up its
side. Probably these had been hatched there, or had nested there before,
and were making their way to their old haunts, but my notes on their
nesting habits go to show that the cocks, at any rate, cannot keep to
the same spot during successive years. It is the hen who chooses the
site, and stays on it, as I have shown, until a mate comes to her, and
wins her, very often only after defeating many other competitors.

The waste of life in an Adélie rookery is very great, and is due to the
following causes:

  The eggs.
      Cocks fighting among the nests.
      Floods from thaw water.
      Death of parents.

  The young chicks.
      "Hooligan" cocks.
      Getting lost.
      Death of parents.


In the above lists I have made no mention of the wanton depredations
committed--owing to the licence given to ignorant seamen--by expeditions
which visit the Antarctic from time to time, but as these visits are
made at rare intervals, they cannot greatly affect the population.

  FOR ITS OWN SAKE (Page 99)]

Some of the items in my list require explanation. The screes at the foot
of the cliff at Cape Adare are perhaps the most thickly populated part
of the rookery. As the thaw proceeds, boulders of different sizes are
continually falling down the cliff, some of them for many hundreds of
feet before they finally plunge in among the nests on the screes, doing
terrible damage, and often rolling some distance out into the rookery.
At other times, owing to the bursting out of thaw water which has been
dammed up at the top of the cliff, large landslides are caused which
bury many hundreds of nests beneath them. In fact, these screes on which
the nests are built have been formed by these landslides taking place
from year to year, and no doubt form the graves of thousands upon
thousands of former generations. One of these slides took place whilst
we were at the rookery, doing terrible damage. A crowded colony of
Adélies were nesting just below, and the avalanche passed right through
and over them, causing the most sad havoc. We found hundreds of injured
and dying, some of them in a pitiable condition. Several were completely
disembowelled, others had the whole skin of their backs torn down and
hanging behind them in a flap, exposing the bare flesh. Dozens had
broken or dislocated legs and flippers.

The worst feature was that many were buried alive beneath the snow, or
pinned down to the ground by masses of basalt. Twice I saw one flipper
sticking out of the snow, moving dismally, and dug out in each case a
badly injured bird which would have lingered perhaps for days, because
loose snow does not always suffocate, owing to the amount of air
contained in its interstices, and to the fact that diffusion takes place
through it very readily. Several of us spent a long time in killing with
ice-axes those that seemed too badly injured to recover.

It was remarkable to see the way in which all the nests which had
escaped the avalanche, however narrowly, were still sat upon by their
occupants, as if nothing had happened. Also I saw several badly injured
birds sitting on their eggs, some of them soaked in blood, so that they
looked like crimson parrots. The amount of bloodshed must have been
great, as the snow was dyed with blood in all directions. As a cascade
of water followed the avalanche, and continued for some hours, spreading
out into little rivers among the nests, many were being deluged, and
some of the penguins actually were sitting in the running water, in a
vain attempt to keep warm their drowned chicks and spoiled eggs.

Sometimes, digging at hazard in the drifted snow, I came on birds that
had been deeply buried, and though they were held down and kept
motionless by the weight of the snow covering them, most of them were
alive, and I have no doubt many dozens died a lingering death in this
way. Such as had merely suffered broken flippers or legs, I spared, and
the next day nearly all of these seemed to be doing well. One bird I
found sitting on two eggs which were in the middle of a rivulet of
water, so I lifted them out and put them on dry ground close by, but the
parent would have nothing to do with them after this.

  [Illustration: Fig. 64. ADÉLIES ON THE ICE-FOOT]

A feature of the above scene, which one could not help noticing, was
that however badly a penguin was injured it was never molested by the
others, as is almost invariably the rule among other birds, including
their near neighbours the skuas. I have seen a sick skua hunted
continuously for over an hour by a mob of its own kind who would not
allow it to settle on the ice for a moment's rest.

Another item of my list requiring explanation is "snow-drifts."

During both spring and summer there are occasional snowstorms, and
during these the birds sit tight on their nests, sometimes being covered
up by drift. As a rule the bird on the nest keeps a space open by poking
its head upwards through the snow, but sometimes it becomes completely
buried. Air diffuses so rapidly through snow that death does not take
place by suffocation, and the bird can live for weeks beneath a drift,
sitting on its nest in the little chamber which it has thawed out by its
own warmth. Generally after a few hours the snow abates and settles down
sufficiently to expose the nest once more, but sometimes a breeze
springs up which is not strong enough to blow the snow away, but simply
hardens the surface of the drift into a crust which lasts for several
weeks, and the birds are imprisoned in consequence. Then little black
dots are seen about the surface of the drift, which are the heads of
penguins thrust through their breathing holes.

On one such occasion I witnessed an interesting little incident. An
imprisoned hen was poking her neck up through her breathing hole when
her mate spied her and came up. He appeared to be very angry with her
for remaining so long on the nest, being unable to grasp the reason, and
after swearing at her for some time he started to peck at her head, she
retaliating as far as her cramped position would allow. When she
withdrew her head, he thrust his down the hole till she drove it out
again, and as this state of things seemed to be going on indefinitely, I
came up and loosened the crust of snow which imprisoned her, on which
she burst out, and seemed glad to do so. She was covered with mire,
having for many days been sitting in a pool of thaw water which had
swamped her nest and evidently spoilt the eggs. When I put her back on
the nest, she sat there for some time, but eventually they both
deserted. I should say that some hundreds of nests were spoilt in this

  [Illustration: Fig. 65. ADÉLIES ON THE ICE-FOOT]

As I photographed the above incident at intervals, different stages are
seen on Figs. 67 to 69.

I have mentioned that eggs got lost owing to cocks fighting among the
nests. When hens are incubating the eggs they never leave the nest under
any circumstances until relieved by their mates, being most reliable and
faithful to their charge. They squabble continually with their nearest
neighbours, whom they seem to hate, but only retaliate on those within
reach, using their bills only to peck at each other's heads without
shifting their position.

The cocks, however, are less dependable. Starting a quarrel in the same
way as the hens do, their militant instincts soon became aroused, on
which they are apt to jump up and start a furious fight with flippers,
staggering to and fro over their nests, and very often spilling the
eggs, which are lost in consequence. On certain occasions I was able to
interfere between the combatants, and replace the eggs, on which they
would return to their domestic duties and seem to forget the incident. A
good many eggs must have been lost in this way during the season.

Late in the season an occurrence took place for which I have never been
able to find any explanation. Occasionally I had noticed that the
penguins had crowded together more than usual on the ice-foot,
multitudes of them standing for hours without any apparent purpose. A
good idea of this scene may be got from the frontispiece.

One morning Mr. Priestley came into the hut and told me that "the
penguins were drilling on the sea-ice," and that I had better come and
look at them. I went with him to the ice-foot, and this is what we saw.

Many thousands of Adélies were on the sea-ice between the ice-foot and
the open water leads, then some quarter of a mile distant. Near the
ice-foot they were congregating in little bands of a few dozen, whilst
farther out near the water, massed bands some thousands strong stood
silent and motionless. Both the small and the large bands kept an almost
rectangular formation, whilst in each band all the birds faced the same
way, though different bands faced in different directions.

  [Illustration: Fig. 66. ADÉLIES ON THE ICE-FOOT]

As we watched it became evident that something very unusual was going
on. First, from one of the small bands, a single bird suddenly appeared,
ran a few yards in the direction of another small band, and stopped. In
the flash of a moment the entire band from which he came executed the
movement "left turn," this bringing them all into a position facing him.
So well ordered was the movement that we could scarcely believe our
eyes. Then from the small band our single bird had approached, another
single bird ran out, upon which his own party did exactly as the first
had done, so that the two bands now stood facing one another, some
fifteen yards apart.


Then spontaneously, the two bands marched straight toward one another,
and joined to form one body. After this we saw the same procedure being
enacted in many other places, the penguins coming down from the rookery
and forming small bands which joined together. Then the augmented bodies
would join other augmented bodies, to form still larger ones, which then
joined together, and so on until a great mass of birds stood together in
rows all facing in one direction like a regiment of soldiers. One of
these masses stood not far from us, a compact rectangular gathering, as
shown on page 109.

They stood thus for a long time, quite motionless and silent, when
suddenly as before, a single bird darted out from among the crowd and
ran a few yards toward the open water, when, as if it had received a
word of command, every bird faced left as in the diagram below.


After this the whole crowd marched for the water, keeping its formation
almost unchanged till it arrived at the edge of the ice, when it halted,
and subsequently entered the water in batches.

  [Illustration: Fig. 67. "An Imprisoned Hen was Poking her Head up
  through her Breathing Hole"]

  [Illustration: Fig. 68. "Her mate appeared to be very angry with her,
  being unable to grasp the reason why she could not come off the nest"
  (Page 106)]

This procedure continued for many hours, the penguins that day observing
this extraordinary behaviour, the most astonishing part of which lay in
the accuracy of their drill-like movements, so that we might have been
watching a lot of soldiers on parade. Perhaps the sudden motions of
these bodies of birds were brought about by a sound uttered by the
single bird which acted as leader, though we did not hear this. The
actual reason for this departure from their usual customs is beyond my
knowledge. There was nothing to be seen to account for it, but the
penguins evidently obeyed some instinct which affected them all on this
and two subsequent occasions, when the same thing took place.

My own idea is that in former times the penguins used to mass together
as other birds do, before their annual migration, perhaps as far back as
the day when their wings were adapted for flight, and that the
phenomenon described above was a relic of their bygone instincts.

When the chicks' down has been moulted and their plumage acquired, they
proceed to the water's edge and here they learn to swim.

In the autumn of 1912, at a small rookery which I came upon on
Inexpressible Island, I had an opportunity of watching their first
attempts in this direction. Crowds of young Adélies were to be seen on
the pebbly beach below their rookery, much of the ice having disappeared
at this late season, leaving bare patches of shingle which were very
suitable for the first swimming lesson.

Many old birds paddled in for a short distance, and crouching in a few
inches of water, splashed about with their flippers to give the
youngsters a lead. Some of the latter needed little encouragement, and
took readily to the strange element, very soon swimming about in deep
water, but others seemed more timid, and these latter were urged in
every possible way by the old birds, some of whom could be seen walking
in and out of the water, and so doing what they could to give their
charges confidence.

In this duty one or two old birds might be seen with a little crowd of
youngsters, so that evidently the social instincts which gave rise to
the crèche system in the first place were extended to the tuition of the
young and thus to their preparation for the journey north.

  [Illustration: Fig. 69. "When she broke out, they became reconciled"
  (Page 106)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 70. Adélie's Nests on Top of Cape Adare, to reach
  which they must make a Precipitous Climb of 1000 feet (Page 98)]

Up in the rookery, fully fledged youngsters could be seen clamouring in
vain for food, the old birds resolutely refusing to feed them now that
they were able to forage for themselves. The adults who instructed the
young in the water had finished their moult, and were themselves ready
to depart. Many others, however, still wandered disconsolately about the
land, some of them only half fledged, and moping under boulders or any
sort of shelter from the chilly breezes, and long after all the
youngsters had departed, solitary moulting birds were to be found,
emaciated and miserable, patches of loose feathers still clinging to the
new coat which was making such a tardy growth. In some places we found
these old birds in holes under the rocks, the old moulted feathers
making some sort of a bed which helped to protect their late wearers
from the cold.

Both at Cape Adare in 1910 and at Inexpressible Island in 1911, I found
that though young and old left the rookery simultaneously at first, yet
after all the young had departed many adults still remained behind owing
to the lateness of their moult, and this is directly at variance with
the remarks of Mr. Borchgravink on the subject, because he says that the
old birds all leave the rookery first, abandoning the young, who are
driven by necessity to take to the water and learn to swim.

Well indeed was it for my companions and me that this was so, for in the
autumn of 1912 we were in sore straits for food, and had it not been
that at a very late date we collected some ninety old moulting birds on
Inexpressible Island, I doubt if we would have seen the sun rise in the
next spring.

At Cape Adare in 1911, half the rookery had departed when we arrived in
the autumn. The rest took to the sea in batches some hundreds strong.
These parties wandered about the beach and ice-foot in company for some
time, then entering the water and swimming northward they were seen no

Those that moulted sometimes remained solitary whilst in the acuter
stages, but nevertheless moulting parties often were seen looking very
miserable, doubtless feeling in their unprotected state the effects of
winds which were getting keener and more severe now that the sun was

When all the youngsters had gone, some thousands of old birds still
remained, and waited for many days after they had acquired their full
plumage before they left. Then these in time disappeared, leaving the
rookery empty and desolate. On March 12 I photographed the last party:
all black-throated adults. Two days later a couple appeared on the
beach, apparently having come back for a last look at us. Then these,
too, disappeared, and as we looked at the empty silent beach we could
not help contrasting it with the noise and bustle of a short time ago.

The last penguin had gone, and the sun disappearing below the horizon,
left us alone with the Antarctic night.


(A) Plumage and Soft Parts.

The following description of the plumage and soft parts of _Pygoscelis
Adeliæ_, which is perfectly correct, is taken from the zoological report
of the _Discovery_ Expedition.

Soft Parts.

"_Bill_, when first hatched, blackish. A week old, black terminally,
deep red at the gape and along the cutting edges. Immature of the first
year, blackish. Adult, brick-red, the upper bill black terminally, and
the mandible black along the cutting edge.

"_Iris_, brown; varying between reddish brown and greenish brown.

"_Eyelids_, black throughout the first year; pure white in the adult at
fourteen months and onwards.

"_Feet_, flesh red; dusky when first hatched, brightening in the first
week or two. Immature and adult, pale flesh pink above, black beneath
(in some cases piebald beneath).

"_Claws_, brown."

                   *       *       *       *       *

In the majority of the chicks the down is uniformly dark and sooty, but
here and there, in progeny of quite normal parents, one may find
nestlings of so pale a grey as to be almost silvery white, with blackish
heads, possibly a reversion to an earlier type, and, at any rate,
suggestive of the young of the Emperor penguin, which perhaps represents
the oldest stock of all. According to Dr. Bowdler Sharp, the colour of
the head is in all cases blacker in the earlier stages than the rest of
the body.(8)

  (8) This was invariable at Cape Adare.

As the chick ages the colour of its down changes, and all of it takes on
a dull rusty brown colour. As it moults the abdomen and thighs change
first, and white feathers appear in place of the down. Then come changes
on the head, round the bill, and at the tail; the upper breast, neck,
and back being the last parts to moult.

The feet, which in the young nestling have been almost black, change in
colour to a brick-red that shows up very markedly against the rusty
brown down, looking as if the legs were raw and inflamed. Later the
permanent flesh colour is acquired, with black plantar surfaces. The
nails are black at first, and later change to brown.

When the nestling down is shed, the resulting plumage is that of the
adult, except that the throat is white instead of black. The upper part
of the head and neck are bluish black, the throat, fore-neck, breast,
and abdomen being a pure dazzling metallic white, a sharp line
separating the white from the black areas. The flippers are the same
bluish "tar" black on the back and white beneath.

In addition to the distinctive pure white plumage of the throat, the
immature bird differs from the adult in one very marked particular,
which is that the eyelids are black, as in the chick, and do not acquire
the staring whiteness which is so distinctive of the adult Adélie
penguin, increasing, as it does, the white area of the sclerotic so that
the bird has the appearance of being perpetually surprised or very

The iris is a rich reddish brown in the adults, but variable in the

At Cape Adare the light grey "silvery" coloured chicks mentioned by Dr.
Wilson were by no means uncommon; in fact, quite a large proportion of
the chicks had very light-coloured down. This is shown in some of the
specimens I brought back to the British Museum.

(B) Variations.

Variations occasionally are met with in the plumage and soft parts of
Adélies. The least rare of these consist of tufts of white feathers
amongst the black plumage of the head. Several specimens so marked were
seen at Cape Adare during the summer of 1911-12.

When these white tufts were present the feathers comprising them were
usually longer than the black feathers among which they appeared, so
that they stuck out in an untidy manner, and were very conspicuous.

In marked distinction to the slight variations above described were the
three "Isabelline" varieties that I preserved, and are now to be seen in
the British Museum collection. As these variations are very startling,
and of the greatest interest, I give below a full description of their
plumage and soft parts.

_First specimen_ captured on the Cape Adare rookery on November 4, 1911.

_Iris_, light brown. _Eyelids_, white. _Bill_, light brown. _Feet_,
white. _Claws_, light brown.

The whole of the area covered by black feathers in the normal bird was
covered by those of a very light fawn, somewhat darker on the neck and
shoulders than elsewhere. _Sex_, male.

_Second specimen_ captured on November 14, 1911.

_Iris_, light brown. _Eyelids_, white. _Bill_, light brown; mandible,
blackish on dorsum; maxilla, blackish on cutting edges. _Feet_, white on
both surfaces. _Claws_, light brown.

In place of the black feathers of the normal bird, there was a
fawn-coloured plumage, darkest on head and neck; lightest at bottom of
back, back of flippers, and on shoulders.

_Sex_, female.

_Third specimen_ captured on December 23, 1911.

_Iris_, light brown. _Feet_, browny white. _Claws_, brown. _Bill_,
brown; very dark on dorsum of mandible. _Eyelids_, white with a pink

In place of the black feathers of the normal bird, this specimen had
those of a very light cream colour: in fact very slightly darker than
the white area but deepening in shade to light fawn on the head, neck,
and shoulders.

_Sex_, male.

The second specimen had mated with a normal cock. In each case the
Isabelline birds were very much more docile than the normal forms. For
instance, they did not struggle when picked up, as the others would have
done, and the third specimen, when brought into our hut, gazed around
with curiosity and apparent contentment, and showed not the least
resentment at its captivity. A normal bird would have struggled and
fought to the last extremity. Each bird was killed with chloroform.

So carefully did we keep the entire rookery under observation that I do
not think it likely there were any more Isabelline forms. Thus we can
conclude 3/750000 roughly represents the proportion of Isabelline forms
among the species.



A book which treats of Adélie penguins scarcely can be complete without
reference to the beautiful McCormick's skua gull (_Megalestris
maccormicki_), as probably no Adélie rookery exists without its
attendant band of skuas, who build their own nests very close to and
occasionally among those of the penguins on whom they prey, almost
entirely supporting themselves and their young upon the eggs and young
offspring of their hosts.

Mention has been made of these birds from time to time through the
previous pages, and some idea of their habits already will have been
formed. In point of fearlessness they fall somewhat short of the Adélie,
but exhibit, perhaps, rather more caution in their dealings with man
than the gulls who visit St. James's Park in London and are fed by the
children there, frequently from the hand, though probably in a very few
days they might become extremely tame were their short experience of
mankind made less bitter. The majority of explorers, like most men,
though kindly by nature, are entirely thoughtless in their dealings with
wild animals, and the skuas approach them only to be killed or severely
injured by the ice-axes or rocks that are thrown at them in wanton sport
as they light on the ground or hover near the visitors, whom they
quickly discover to be their bitter and relentless foes.

Arriving at the rookeries somewhat later than the Adélies, they do not
lay their eggs until the beginning of December. Practically no nest is
made, a mere hollow being worked in the ground, in which the bird sits.
Frequently several hollows are made before the hen finally settles where
she will lay. The two eggs, which are brownish olive thickly and darkly
mottled with brown, are incubated for four weeks, after which the chicks
are hatched.

From the moment of their first appearance from the egg these chicks
exhibit the most extraordinary precocity. Covered with pale slaty-grey
down, they look anything but the pugnacious little animals they turn out
to be. Their one idea, besides feeding, seems to be to fight one
another, and they may be seen to roll about the nest, locked together,
fighting with beak and claw. They are fed from the ground, and may be
seen picking about among the stones like the little domestic chickens,
which they very much resemble. After a time invariably one of the chicks
disappears, and as dead youngsters are not to be found, they are
probably eaten by neighbours who have caught them wandering; in fact,
Mr. Ferrar, of Captain Scott's first expedition, actually saw a Skua
pick up a wandering chick of its own species and fly off with it,
followed by a screaming flock of its neighbours, who sought to rob it of
its prey.

In order to find out how many eggs a Skua would lay, I marked some
nests, and took the eggs as they were laid. In each case a second egg
was laid, but when this was taken no more appeared. In two nests I
removed the first egg as soon as it was laid, but left the second, which
was then sat upon by the parent, who was content with it, or unable to
lay a third.

When any of us approached their nests the old birds would fly round in
wide circles, making wild "stoops" at our heads each time they passed
over us, in the evident attempt to frighten us away. Occasionally they
would actually knock our heads with a wing, and nothing seeming to scare
them off, they would swoop past us time after time in a most
disconcerting manner. In order to keep them at a distance without having
to keep a constant look-out, when I was in the neighbourhood of their
nest, I used to walk about holding a ski-stick or the handle of my
ice-axe straight above me, and they would swoop at the top of this
instead of my head, which was infinitely preferable. One day when a high
wind was blowing on top of Cape Adare, I had my ice-axe knocked clean
out of my hand by one of the Skuas flying straight into the handle, the
heavy blow seeming to affect the bird but slightly.

There was a "skuary" on the screes, close to a thickly populated part of
the rookery, but the majority of these birds made their nests right at
the top of Cape Adare, from which point of vantage they surveyed the
entire rookery, and a very sharp look-out they kept too, for no sooner
did we start to flense a seal than a flock of them descended to gobble
at the lumps of blubber as we threw them on the ground. In this
occupation they exhibited the greatest jealousy, and when there was a
hundred times as much blubber on the ground as all the skuas possibly
could have eaten, they continually tried to drive each other away. When
fighting they rarely stayed on the ground, but leapt at one another into
the air, and one of the illustrations shows two Skuas in the act of
doing this. Their great spread of wing is well shown in this photograph.
(Fig. 71.)

When penguins' eggs were plentiful in the rookery the Skuas flew very
low over the ground, and as they passed over each colony of nests the
sitting birds would crouch low upon them, a very necessary precaution,
as I have described already in these pages the unerring way in which the
Skuas picked up the penguins' eggs when they were left uncovered. Broken
and empty shells strewed the ground in the vicinity of the Skuas' nests,
and it is probable that in a large rookery, such as that at Cape Adare,
thousands of eggs are destroyed by them annually.

The instinct of the thief is most strongly marked in the Skua tribe, and
I am afraid that the mere love of thieving alone actuates them on many
occasions. For instance, when I was skinning a seal one day near Cape
Evans I left a pair of field-glasses lying on a coat close by, and on
looking round saw a Skua in the act of making off with them, holding
them by the strap in his beak. A sudden yell caused the offender to drop
the glasses, fortunately when they were but a yard from the ground.
Again, when the crew of an Antarctic ship were engaged in blasting the
sea-ice which imprisoned it, a Skua flew off with one of the detonators
which had been left on the ice. I think the detonator contained
dynamite, but at any rate I am told that there was a stampede on the
part of the men to get away from under the bird as it flew overhead!

When, with two companions, I visited a skuary at the back of the penguin
rookery at Cape Royds, the Skuas circled over us in a way I have
described above, but instead of swooping at our heads, some of them
repeatedly dropped their guano on to us as they passed over, timing the
process with such surprising accuracy that I was hit once, and Commander
Campbell no less than three times. The following year when at Cape
Adare, I expected the same treatment from the Skuas there, but curiously
enough, these never did it. That one skuary should have adopted such
tactics and another not, is a very curious thing, but it may possibly be
that the Cape Royds Skuas discovered the trick during the stay of Sir
Ernest Shackleton's expedition, who had spent a year there quite
recently, and of the _Discovery_ expedition which spent two years at Hut
Point, but a few miles distant, whereas the only men who ever inhabited
Cape Adare wintered there some fifteen years before. But this is mere

  [Illustration: Fig. 71. "Leapt at one another into the Air" (Page 129)]

  [Illustration: Fig. 72. A Skua by its Chick (Page 131)]

When one of the parent Skuas is on the ground near its nest, on the
approach of anyone it throws its head back, opens its wings, and loudly
proclaims its whereabouts with its raucous cawing notes. When hovering
over food, and at other times when not alarmed or angry, the sounds made
by a Skua are very like those of the common Herring Gull, and not
altogether unmusical at times, especially when making the little shrill
piping note, by which I have often thought that gulls so nearly imitate
the squeaking of a block in its sheaf.

When the penguin chicks are hatched, the Skuas prey upon these in a most
cruel manner, and should a chick wander away from the protecting old
birds, a Skua is almost certain to pounce upon and kill it. This it does
by pecking its eyes out, after which, with powerful strokes of its beak,
it gets to work on its back and quickly devours the kidneys.

The dead bodies of hundreds of chicks are seen strewn about the rookery,
and especially in the neighbourhood of the Skuas' nests, as very often
they carry them there. All these dead chicks are seen to have two holes
picked through their backs, one on each side, corresponding to the
position of each kidney.

Besides the penguins' eggs and young, there is another fruitful source
of food for the Skuas to be found along the Antarctic coasts at the
early part of the year, and that is during the time when the seals are
bringing forth their young upon the sea-ice. The Skuas attend upon them
then, and devour the after-births. In the second volume of the
_Discovery_ reports Dr. Wilson mentions that large numbers of Skuas were
noticed at Granite Harbour, and I have no doubt that they had
congregated there for this purpose, as when passing the spot on a spring
journey along the sea-ice in 1912, we saw many hundreds of Weddell seals
with their young. So many were there, that as we lay in our
sleeping-bags during the night, the bleating of the little calves near
our tents conveyed to our half-awakened senses the impression that we
were in the midst of lambing fields at home!

                   *       *       *       *       *

The soft parts are coloured as follows:

_Bill_, black.

_Iris_, dark brown.

_Legs_, _toes_, and _webbs_, black, excepting a patch of bright blue
just above the tibio-metatarsal joint, in young fledglings. Wholly black
afterwards. (They have a very fine spread of webb.)

_Claws_, black.

The feathers of the head, neck, and breast vary from very light buff, or
almost white, to rich dark brown.

  Skuas' Time Table

  |                    |   McMurdo Sound   | Cape Adare |
  |                    |   1902      1903  |    1911    |
  | 1st bird arrived   | Nov.  3   Oct. 25 |   Oct. 26  |
  | 1st egg seen       | Dec.  9   Dec.  2 |   Nov. 29  |
  | 1st chick hatched  |           Jan.  1 |            |
  | Last bird left     | Mar. 30   Apr.  7 |            |


  (9) _Aptenodytes forsteri._

The Emperor is by far the largest of all penguins, weighing between 80
and 90 lbs. It is also a particularly handsome and graceful bird. By
nature it seems much like the Adélie, except that its general demeanour
is extremely dignified, and its gait, as it approaches you over the
snow, slow and deliberate.

The most marked difference in the habits of the Adélie and the Emperor
lies in the respective seasons at which each lays and incubates its
eggs. Unlike the Adélie, which, as we have seen, chooses the warmest and
lightest months of the year for the rearing of its young, the Emperor
performs this duty in the darkest, coldest, and most tempestuous time.
The only reason that has been suggested for this custom is that many
months must pass before the chicks are fully fledged. Were they hatched
in December (midsummer) as are Adélies, autumn would find them still
unfledged, and probably they would perish in consequence, whereas, being
hatched in the early spring, they are fostered by their parents until
the warmer weather begins, and then have the entire summer in which to
accomplish their change of plumage.

  [Illustration: Fig. 73. AN EMPEROR PENGUIN (Page 134)]

The only Emperor rookery known to man at the present day was discovered
by Lieuts. Royds and Skelton, of Captain Scott's first Antarctic
expedition, on the sea-ice beneath Cape Crozier. Here in the dark days
of July this extraordinary bird lays its one egg upon the ice.

In the winter of 1911 a very brave journey was made to this spot by a
party of Captain Scott's officers, consisting of Dr. Wilson, Lieut.
Bowers and Mr. Cherry-Garrard. The experiences of this little band were
so terrible that it is remarkable they ever returned to tell of them.
Temperatures of -78° F. were encountered, and the most severe blizzards
at lower temperatures than any sledging-party had yet endured. Under
these truly terrible conditions the Emperors lay their eggs and hatch
their young.

The mortality under such circumstances is very high, as one would
expect. Avalanches of ice fall from the cliffs above, crushing many of
the parent birds, and causing hundreds of eggs to be deserted. As Dr.
Wilson stated, the ice cliffs beneath which these remarkable animals sat
were so unstable that no man in his senses would camp for a single night
beneath them. In spite of this, evidence showed that after an avalanche
of ice blocks from above, which had caused some of the Emperors to leave
their eggs on the ice and bolt in terror, many of them had returned and
continued to sit on the eggs which had been frozen and killed by the
frost in their absence, continuing to do so long after they were
completely rotten. Indeed, in their desire for something to hatch, some
who had been deprived of their eggs, were seen to be attempting to
incubate pieces of ice in their place, and, unlike Adélies, they seem
ever ready to snatch and foster the young of their neighbours.

The first time the rookery at Cape Crozier was visited, not above one
thousand birds occupied it. On the second occasion their numbers were
far short of this. By the springtime only one out of ten or twelve birds
are seen to be rearing young, so it is obvious other rookeries await
discovery in other parts, as there are a large number of Emperors to be
seen along the Antarctic coasts.

  [Illustration: Fig. 74. PROFILE OF AN EMPEROR (Page 134)]

When in the _Terra Nova_ we made our way along the face of the great
Barrier to the eastward, we saw large numbers of Emperors, especially to
the extreme eastward where a heavy hang of pack-ice blocked our further
passage, and I have little doubt that future exploration will disclose a
rookery or rookeries in this direction.

Again, in the spring of 1912, when nearing the end of a sledge journey
from the northward to Cape Evans we passed large gatherings of Emperor
penguins on some very old sea-ice under the Barrier's edge, along the
southern end of McMurdo Sound, and it seems not at all unlikely that
they may breed here too. Unfortunately we were unable at that time to
make detours, so had to leave the question unsettled, but if they do
breed here, they must have far to go to get food during those winters
when the sea-ice does not break out of the Sound.

The growth of the Emperor chick is slow, when compared with the
mushroom-like rate at which the Adélie youngster increases its

Approximately the egg is laid at the beginning of July and hatched out
some seven or eight weeks later. During the period of incubation, which
duty is shared by all, male and female alike, the egg is held in a loose
fold of skin at the lower part of the abdomen, the skin of the adults
being worn bare of feathers in this region.

When hatched out, the chick is coveted by every unoccupied adult, and so
desperate at times are the struggles for its possession that very
frequently it gets injured or killed by its would-be foster parents. Dr.
Wilson has estimated the mortality among the chicks before they shed
their down at 77 per cent. and thinks that half this number are killed
by kindness. Very often, in fact, they will crawl under projecting
ledges of ice, or anywhere to escape the attentions of half a dozen or
so of adults, all bearing down upon them together, only to meet and
struggle for their possession, during which process the innocent cause
may get trampled and clawed to death. So strong is the maternal instinct
of the Emperor, that frozen and lifeless chicks are carried about and
nursed until their down is worn away. In fact, the scientists who
visited the rookery were unable to get good specimens of dead chicks, as
all of these had been treated in this way.

Fortunately the Emperor chick escapes the depredation of the Skua gull,
which plays such havoc in the Adélie rookeries, because the Skua does
not come south until the summer, by which time the Emperor chicks are
well grown. As in the case of the Adélies, the black throat is not
acquired until the second moult. When this has taken place, the bird
looks remarkably handsome. The bill, which is curved and tapering, is
bluish black, but the posterior half of the mandible is coloured a
beautiful lilac. The head and throat are black, whilst on each side of
the neck is a patch of vivid orange feathers. The rest of the body is
marked in the same way as the Adélie.

The mortality among the chicks being so very high, the probability is
that the life of the adult is long, as otherwise the species could
hardly survive. Dr. Herbert Klugh has calculated that the Emperor
penguin lives for thirty-five years.

Evidence goes to show that the young birds spend their immaturity on the
pack-ice, as all those sighted and collected on the pack at any distance
to the northward have been immature, and no immature birds have been
seen along the coasts at any time during the summer.

The food of the Emperor mainly consists of fish and crustaceans. There
are invariably many small pebbles in the stomach. Like Adélies they must
of course have open water within reach in order to get food, and in the
neighbourhood of Cape Crozier this is always to be found, as the rapid
tide there keeps the sea from freezing in over a considerable area, so
that probably they never have to walk more than a mile or two to get

The cry of the Emperor is very loud and travels far across the ice. When
sledging over the sea-ice in the spring, in the neighbourhood of Cape
Adare, a curious sound was heard at times, reminding one strongly of the
"overtone" notes of a ship's steam horn. The sounds puzzled us at the
time, but I think now that most probably they were made by Emperor

The egg of the Emperor is white, pyriform in shape, and weighs just
under 1 lb.

My own experience of these birds being limited I do not intend to enter
deeply into the subject. The only surviving member of the band who
visited Cape Crozier during the winter is Mr. Cherry-Garrard, and it is
much to be hoped that some day he will write us an account of what he
saw there. In the meantime for further details of the habits and
morphology of the species, the reader is referred to Dr. Wilson's work,
published in the second volume of the British Museum Reports, on the
National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904.


  [ Transcriber's Note:

    The following is a list of corrections made to the original.
    The first line is the original line, the second the corrected one.



  confusion, causing them to 'porpoise" madly away for a few hundred
  confusion, causing them to "porpoise" madly away for a few hundred

  blackish on dorsum; maxilla blackish on cutting edges. _Feet_, white on
  blackish on dorsum; maxilla, blackish on cutting edges. _Feet_, white on

  eggs. Unlike the Adélie, which, as we have seen, choses the warmest and
  eggs. Unlike the Adélie, which, as we have seen, chooses the warmest and


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