Adélie penguins of Gardiner Island

Adélie penguin on Gardiner Island

Just after arriving at Davis and while the ice was still ‘in’ we had an opportunity to walk out to Gardiner Island and have a look at the large adélie penguin colony. We were taken out by Jen and Vas who had just completed a winter at the base and were field trained.

Negotiating a tide crack in the sea ice – on our way to Gardiner Island
Heading out across the sea ice to Gardiner Island on the left with Anchorage Island on the right
Passing a small ice berg embedded in the sea ice on our 4km walk to Gardiner island
Tide cracks surround this ice berg embedded in the sea ice

It is a 4 km walk across the sea ice to Gardiner Island. Long before we got to the island we could hear and smell the adélie penguins.

Adélie penguins live all around the Antarctic coast and on the sea ice. They come to their breeding grounds in October or November. The male builds a nest made of rocks. The female will lay one or two eggs.

Gardiner Island – adélie penguins sit on their rocky nests – a egg can be seen roughly in the middle
The male penguins wander far and wide for the choicest  rocks to build the nest – sometimes they steal them from other nests

The eggs are incubated for 32 – 34 days with both parents taking shifts on the nest. The shifts are usually around 12 days with the brooding parent not eating during that time, while the other parent is out foraging for food.

Scattered all over Gardiner Island were adélie penguins incubating eggs on rock nests 
Every available space is used for nesting – these penguins at the top of the ridge have a ‘room with a view’

All the while skuas gather at vantage points awaiting an opportunistic meal. Penguins that are distracted lose their eggs or young chicks to these skuas.

Antarctic skua on a high vantage point to keep a vigilant eye over the colony
A skua’s vigilance pays off
Magnificent view of Davis, the Vestfold Hills and the distant plateau from a high point on Gardiner Island

Based on a 2014 analysis (Wikipedia) there were 3.79 million breeding pairs of adélie penguins in 251 breeding colonies around Antarctica.

A larger flat area on high ground on the eastern side of Gardiner Island were many nesting penguins
An Adélie parent tends carefully re-positions its egg – a couple of welll constructed rock nests
View to the Northeast across a large group of nesting adélie penguins

Always on the periphery of the breeding colony are many young adult penguins and/or breeding penguins that have lost their eggs. They look for opportunities to steal a nest.

Adélie penguins on Gardiner Island
A nesting adélie penguin shows its brood pouch – if you take a close look you will see that it has 2 eggs
Life and Death in Antarctica – this dead chick may have been here for years
View of the station from a high vantage point on Gardiner Island
View to the Southwest from Gardiner Island

The skua’s also hunt snow petrels, sometimes taking them in mid-air. When they catch a snow petrel they will eat everything except the bones and the wings. It is not uncommon to find pairs of snow petrel ‘angel wings’ around the Vestfold Hills.

Snow petrel ‘angel wings’ after being eaten by a skua
On the way back to station we passed another ice berg embedded in the sea ice – again surrounded by tide cracks

The chicks start to hatch just before Christmas. Once hatched they stay in the nest for around 22days then leave and join other chicks in crèches. The chicks then moult into their juvenile plumage and go out to sea after 50 to 60 days – some time in March. All the while the adult parents take turns feeding – going out and fishing, feeding themselves and adding reserves to feed the chick or chicks.

The next time I was at Gardiner Island was early February when the chicks were 5 to 6 weeks old and in their crèches.

5 to 6 week old chicks in a crèche on Gardiner Island in early February
The chicks gather in big crèches while most of the adults are out fishing occasionally returning to feed their chick or chicks
2 chicks chasing their parent for a feed
Plenty of adélie penguin chicks waiting to be fed
Come the time – these chicks have a long haul down to the sea
Adèlie penguins with their chicks on Gardiner Island
The breeding and non-breeding adult adélie penguins seemed to use this natural rocky ramp to enter and exit the water

Penguins in general are a hardy lot and show amazing agility, strength and ingenuity to traverse their harsh and extreme environment. They are truly one of the wonders of nature.

“Follow Me – I know where all the good food is”


The water temperature is around -1ºC – sea water freezes at -1.8ºC


Non breeding adélie penguins hang out at the waters edge

The following photographs of adélie penguins were taken (by me) when I spent a summer as a weather forecaster at Casey Station in 2007/08.

Adélie penguin near Shirley Island (Casey) 2007
Leaving the water – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007
Onto the sea ice – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007
Airborne onto the sea ice – Shirley Island near Casey Station 2007

Enjoy and please share and/or send comments

Until Next Time……..



3 thoughts on “Adélie penguins of Gardiner Island

  1. Greetings from Bright in NE Victoria, where my husband & I are enjoying a few days of long lunches,long walks & beautiful weather. I am really enjoying your posts & getting a feel for life in the Antarctic. You must feel privileged to be experiencing something that only a few hundred people on this planet will ever see or do. I just wonder if that 4 km walk you took across the ice to see the penguins was a bit nerve wracking especially when there were cracks in the ice. Looking forward to your next post. Best wishes to all of you, Lynne.


    1. Thanks for your comment Lynne – Yes I do feel extremely privileged to be here. This is my 4th posting to the Antarctic or sub-Antarctic. I wrote a blog whilst I was at Macquarie Island for a year

      As far as walking across the ice – it was perfectly safe as it was 1.5 to 2 metres thick. We are now at the end of summer and it is getting colder and the ice will return soon.
      The summer expeditioners left last week and we are down to 17 for the winter (from a max of 85).

      Cheers Barend (Barry) Becker


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