Galapagos Penguins Feed Grown Offspring that Have Left the Nest

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-15 06:57

Still living with your parents? It's okay, grown Galapagos penguins do it too.

When young human adults struggle with making ends meet, their parents often help them out until they're able to stand on their own two feet. Galapagos penguin parents also do the same thing. They feed their fledglings for a few weeks until the fledglings learn how to hunt for themselves. A recent study details how fledglings—penguins that have recently left the nest—beg their parents for food.

Galapagos penguin parents and fledglings recognize each other by their vocalizations. Researchers observed fledglings vocalizing to older penguins, most probably begging for food. As the adults came onto the shore to feed after hunting, the fledglings moved toward them to beg. Some adults turned some of the fledglings away, probably because they weren't related. Once a set of parents recognized their fledgling, though, they fed it regurgitated food, which is how they feed their young chicks.

Changes in the Behavior of Galapagos Penguins

However, it's not a permanent arrangement, and it's also conditional. The penguins only share food with their offspring when they've caught plenty of fish from the ocean. They also do so only when it won't interfere with natural processes like molting, which demands a lot of energy.

A juvenile Galapagos penguin
[Photo via Aquaimages]

This type of behavior is also not uncommon in various species of seabirds. In fact, only three species of seabirds don't provide care for their fledglings: storm-petrels, shearwaters, and penguins. Gentoo penguins are the only known penguin species that still provide for fledglings. Now, the Galapagos penguin is exhibiting this behavior as well. However, researchers don't think that any of the other penguin species will exhibit this behavior. In fact, Galapagos penguins have only been engaging in post-fledging care relatively recently.

Galapagos penguin parents often migrate away from their nest when their chick fledges. However, scientists have observed that some parents stay in their nest even when their fledgling leaves. This may be because they're expecting to help their fledgling out until it can effectively provide for itself.

One reason for this may be the changes that their environment in the Galapagos Islands experiences. Due to these changes, the penguins don't always get enough nutrition to cater to all their energy-intensive needs.

Surviving vs Thriving in the Galapagos Islands

Sometimes the ocean brings in plenty of fish, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes there may even be a famine. When El Niño is in full force, it's a lot more difficult for the penguins to find food. This forces the penguins to adjust their behavior and even their mating patterns. When times are tough, some individuals don't mate in the expected breeding window. Some parents even resort to abandoning their chicks when food is particularly hard to come by.

With climate change affecting the already ever-changing climes of the Galapagos islands, more fledglings may have to move back home. The penguins may also need to scramble to find sources of sustenance. The good news is that Galapagos penguins have shown themselves to be capable of adapting to changing times.

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