King Penguin Commits Chicknapping

Skua gull vs. King penguin, (c) C. Oosthuizen

A report released in Polar Biology had an interesting incident involving an overeager king penguin to relate.  Apparently a researcher happened upon a particular king that had decided he was ready to raise some offspring.   Since it was too early for king penguin breeding season, the adult went after his neighbors’ chick which belonged to a pair of skua gulls.  Skuas are a natural predator of king penguin chicks and infrequently prey upon the adults as well. 

After a few hours of attempting to brood the baby on his feet the penguin was greeted by the chick’s real parents that proceeded to fight for their hatchling.  Researchers from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, who were on Marion Island, decided to intervene to ensure that the chick was returned to his natural parents.  Besides a potential “I’m not getting any younger I should raise some chicks” notion, the observers think the king penguin’s natural parenting instincts might have been instigated by the skua chick’s visual resemblance to a very young king chick.  Both species sport a fuzzy brown coats as juveniles.  In fact king penguins were once called the “wooly penguin” for this shaggy ensemble.