Annual variation in breeding biology of macaroni penguins, Eudyptes chvysolophus, at Bird Island, South Georgia

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Abstract

The breeding biology of the macaroni penguin, Eudyptes chrysolophus, was studied over four years, 1976 and 1986–88, at Bird Island, South Georgia. Birds were migratory, being absent during winter (May to September). Arrival at the colony was highly synchronous between years: 14–23 October, over a 7-year period. The pre-breeding, incubation and chick-brooding period was characterized by long fasts ashore, for 36 and 39 days in males and 41 days in females, alternating with long periods at sea. Within years egg-laying was highly synchronous: 95% of clutches initiated within 4–6 days. Arrival date and mean egg-laying date were later (by 3 days), and breeding population size lower (by 20%) in 1987, compared to other years. The incubation period was 35 days and comprised three long shifts, the first shared by the male and female, the second by the female and the third by the male. In 1986 and 1988 these were of 12, 12 and 9 days' duration, but in 1987 the first shift was significantly shorter: 9 days. Chicks creched at 23–25 days of age and fledged at 60 days of age. Neither chick age nor weight at creching or fledging varied between the years 1986–88. The breeding biology of macaroni penguins at Bird Island is compared with that of other Eudyptes penguins, and with the sympatric gentoo penguin, Pygoscelispupuu. There is little variation in breeding biology within the genus Eudyptes, except in the length of time spent at sea prior to the annual moult. This is much shorter at Bird Island, probably reflecting a greater food availability compared to other localities. Inter-annual variation in certain breeding parameters, e.g. laying date, breeding population size, is much greater in the gentoo penguin than in the macaroni penguin. The shorter breeding season, rearing of only one chick and proportionately lower chick fledging weight in macaroni penguins, may be linked to this species' migratory strategy.

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