Monday, December 15, 2014

Rockhopper Penguins

by M. J. Joachim




Rockhopper penguins are small, feisty little birds, weighing approximately six pounds and growing less than two feet tall. They have large tufts of feathers positioned between their eyes, on top of their heads that look like a big, bushy eyebrows. Their tiny red eyes are highlighted by a thin yellow stripe of feathers situated above them, on either side of their head. 

Rockhopper penguins got their name because of the way they hop around on land. Using both feet, they jump up and down from the base of their rocky habitats, all the way up a mountainous series of rocky steps, to the tops of steep cliffs overlooking the ocean in the southern hemisphere. During this process, they bend their heads down to measure each step with their orangey-red beaks, creating a swift motion where their heads bend down and swoop up, as they strategically hop up each step to reach the colony grounds. 

Rockhopper penguins have migrated to the same rock cliff nesting areas for centuries. During their life cycle, they usually mate monogamously, living half of their days on land and the other half in the sea. Mating and nesting takes place on land from October through March, while migration and swimming occurs in the ocean from March through October. 

Rockhopper penguins carefully prepare their nests with great care, weaving grass, twigs and other materials to build a suitable environment for their eggs. Nests are built in the rocky crevices of cliffs within their colony. Females lay two eggs; one is usually eaten by predators, leaving the other an optimal chance of hatching. Males and females both care for their young. While the father or mother watches the baby, the other gathers fish from the ocean to feed their chick. Parents regurgitate food into their chick’s mouth during feeding times.




Chicks stay in their land colonies for approximately one year. They incubate, hatch, become fledglings, molt and finally make their way to the sea, where they will eventually mate and return to the rocky cliffs, nesting in their turn. During this time, parent rockhoppers train their chicks, often testing their abilities to hop before allowing them to feed. When baby rockhopper penguins molt, new feathers push out the downy baby feathers, and replace them with adult feathers. This prevents the birds from getting cold during the process of losing their first feathers.

The oceanic cycle for rockhopper penguins begins at the end of molting season. Colonies make their way to the sea, hopping down the steep cliffs of their land colonies. In the ocean, they use their wings like flippers, diving in and out of waves, bobbing up and down in short hopping motions, as they journey to their feeding grounds. Their diet consists mainly of lantern fish, small crustaceans – primarily krill and squid.

Rockhopper penguins are very noisy birds. Like other penguins, they cannot fly. Consequently, one of the ways they protect themselves and their young is by aggressively chattering at predators and other penguins. Their strutting, pecking and fast-paced jumping, as well as other quick and jerky body movements quickly communicate an attitude of warning or welcoming those who come near them, as the need arises.





Thanks so much for visiting, commenting on and sharing my post today. Penguins are pretty cool little animals, which is why it’s so much fun learning more about them.

Until next time, I wish you every good thing,

M. J.

©2014 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Rockhopper Penguins on Westport and Saunders Island in the Falkland Islands, Liam Quinn, CCA-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License