Bolder not better for penguins

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A recent study by the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and Nelson Mandela University has revealed shy penguins have better breeding success.

The study looked at the behaviour of African penguin pairs to determine their breeding success, and focused on the risk-taking behaviour of penguins on Bird Island within Addo Elephant National Park.
To test how bold or shy penguins are, researchers approached nests where a single penguin was present, and crouched down one metre from the nest. After filming and observing the behaviour of the individuals for 30 seconds, the researchers moved away. Special care was taken to minimise disturbance to these endangered birds.

Individuals were termed bold when they displayed more attacks and threats, and less alertness and backward movement.

Results showed penguins with at least one risk-prone, bold parent were at a disadvantage. In the
study, males tended to be bolder, probably as they are the gender that claims territory. Shy penguins had the greatest success in rearing their chicks, especially during periods of food shortages.

Bold parents may defend their nests successfully against predation when food is abundant, but this strategy is not beneficial when food availability is low. This is because high energy expenditure may become too costly when food availability is limited. Shy penguins on the other hand were more successful in rearing chicks, investing more energy in foraging, especially during times of food shortages.

Written by René de Klerk

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