Galápagos penguin chicks have it good. Even when they are old enough to hunt on their own, they beg their parents for food — and the parents give in.
Recently researchers in the Galápagos watched as fully fledged birds squeaked and pleaded until their parents turned to them and regurgitated a meal into their mouths. One big young bird, recorded on video, was fed, then followed his parent squeaking for more until the besieged adult escaped by diving into the water.
The study is online in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
In the Galápagos, food supplies vary. When times are good and there is plenty of food, one way of assuring the survival of the species is for parents to help their adult children with some extra nourishment.
Galápagos penguins forage just offshore, close to their nests, and return to the nest site after the young fledge, so parents and fledglings are likely to encounter one another frequently.
Only one other of the 18 species of penguins is known to do this: the Gentoo penguins. These birds, which inhabit Antarctica and nearby islands, feed their young after they have fledged for about 12 days, probably to give them time to learn how to hunt for themselves.
The Galápagos penguins, the only penguins that live north of the Equator, are endangered, with fewer than 2,000 left in the world. They are not always so self-sacrificing.
“When conditions are good, they can raise two chicks in a season and continue to feed them,” said Dee Boersma, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and the lead author of the study.
“When there’s little food around,” Professor Boersma continued, “they save themselves, forgetting about both eggs and…