Some of the common misconceptions about penguins is that they mate for life (most don’t) and that they equally share parenting duties, but penguins are as diverse as people, and what some penguin species do, others do not. So, when the Penguin Post learned that Phillip Island’s Little Penguin parents have the same issues humans do when it comes to one spouse not pulling their weight in their parenting role it came as no surprise.
Research by Australian and French scientists in the International Society for Behavioural Ecology’s journal dispels a long-held held belief penguin parents contribute equally to raising the chicks. But a staggering 75 per cent are unequal partnerships, and those with an over-achieving parent produce fitter, healthier babies who are more likely to survive. Males and females of any age fit the over-achiever category. Phillip Island Nature Parks penguin biologist Andre Chiaradia said the study’s findings were surprising and important. “Birds have a bi-parental system where both parents equally share the tasks of raising the offspring,” Dr Chiaradia said. “We thought it would be the same with penguins but our study over 10 years proved otherwise.” The penguins are microchipped and their movements monitored round the clock. Every time they return to land, they cross a path that includes a weighing platform. “We measure how heavy they are when they come in and compare to how light when they went out, and work out how much food they have brought and how efficient they are,” Dr Chiaradia said. “When we looked at the trips of parents to bring food to their chicks we discovered some work harder than the others.” She said the findings helped scientists understand how birds would cope in changed circumstances. “I know we have some birds with higher qualities and they will survive better,” she said. The team began monitoring the birds in 2000 and has been monitoring them since to accumulate a mass of information. Research of the birds over 43 years is the longest continuous sea bird study in the world.