The penguins of Patagonia are the best birds adapted to the marine world.
During all these months, the Valdés Peninsula is home to birds that have adapted to marine life better than any other: the penguins.
There are over half a million Patagonian or Magellanic penguins in the various colonies established on the peninsula and the surrounding region. They have been almost six months living in the waters of the Atlantic, and now return to breed in the lands where they were born.
In the middle of August, the first males arrive along the coast.
They have come to get the nest ready before their partners arrive. Like a procession, they all march inland, looking for the same hole they used last year. If they find it, they will have to prepare it and defend it from the males who have come for the first time, and want a ready-made home. In just a short time, the nesting areas are full of clean nesting holes, each one guarded over by a male.
In the middle of September, the females arrive.
Penguins are monogamous, so last year’s couples will reunite. Newcomers will need to take great care in the construction of their nests, in the hope of being chosen by one of the single females.
Their breeding colonies are inland, about 600 metres from the beaches. Here, the ground is solid, and there is no danger of flooding, though they do run the risk of their eggs being trodden on by a careless guanaco or rhea.
The most sought-after nests are those beneath bushes, where the plants will offer protection from the sun.
Once they have been reunited with their mates, the courtship begins, a ritual of dances, flapping of wings and clacking of beaks.
When this ceremony is over, copulation takes place, and will be repeated several times in the course of the next few hours.
A few days later, the females lay two eggs, which will be incubated by both parents, for forty days. While one remains in the nest, the other goes into the sea to feed. Their wings, converted into flippers, and their tapered bodies, enable them to reach underwater speeds of up to 24 km./h., an impressive achievement for a bird.
This adaptation is fundamental, as they spend almost half the year living day and night in the ocean. There, they eat, drink, play and sleep.
Once they have satisfied their hunger, they quickly return to the nest, where their partner is waiting for the change of guard.
The eggs must never be left unattended, because foxes, petrels, skuas and seagulls are always around, waiting for a chance to take them. To prevent them from being stolen, the penguins dig holes up to one metre long. Even so, many eggs and chicks are lost, and it is rare for all a couple’s offspring to survive.