Penguin Males with Steady Pitch Make Better Parents

An adelie penguin

Credit: Emma Marks / University of Auckland

7/12/2010

How does a female penguin choose a mate? Courtship calls help females decide which males are likely to be devoted dads, says a study in the journal Behaviour.

Antarctic penguins come on land for just a few short months each summer to breed and raise their chicks. Raising a family in the coldest place on earth is no small feat. Adelie penguins pull it off by tag-team parenting, the researchers explained. Males and females take turns incubating the eggs and guarding the chicks while their mate forages for food.

Males arrive first to claim a territory and build a nest. When the females arrive, the males serenade prospective mates by throwing their heads back, pointing their beaks to the sky, and emitting a series of hoarse trills and squawks.

"They're not musical calls — they sound like a cross between a donkey and a stalled car," said author Emma Marks of the University of Auckland. Penguin calls may not be music to our ears, but to penguin females they hold clues to a male's paternal potential, Marks and colleagues report.

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