Every day is a new adventure in the AdéliePenguin breeding colony at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarcitca. Our colony has about 2000 breeding pairs of Adelie Penguins and there are two of us who live in a tent about a quarter mile from the nesting sites. Dr.David Ainley is a world authority on Adelie Penguins and the principal investigator for the research team that monitors several colonies on the island. Jean Pennycook is an educator, who shares Dr Ainley's work with the world. They live in a tent for 2.5 months every season learning about these remarkable birds.

Along the way to work each day they pass Shackelton's hut built in 1908 which is now a world heritage site. Besides Adelie Penguins, Emperor Penguins, seals, whales, skuas and snow petrels come to Cape Royds. In the background Mt Erebus, one of three volcanos on Ross Island and the only active one provide a scenic backdrop to the penguin colony. Follow along the daily stories as the season progresses.

Here are links to the web-based penguin activities.

Click here for additional information about Adelie Penguins and how they are coping with climate change. Click here for additional activities you can do in your classroom.

Questions about this page? Email me.

Jean Pennycook jean.pennycook@gmail.com

Map of Ross Island showing the penguin colonies in our research study.

Cape Royds Adelie Penguin breeding colony.


Cape Royds Adelie Penguin Breeding Colony Daily Journal, 2016

click on any picture to see a larger version

This concludes the Cape Royds Journal for 2016-17. Please join us next year with all new stories

Jan 10, 2017

Some of our smaller breeding groups were wiped out. This picture and the one on the right shows a penguin who found one of these places. He took all the rocks from the 10 or so nests that were there, and built one big one (see Dec 8 and 15 for the stories).

Jan 11, 2107

This is the biggest pile of rocks I have ever seen. Unfortunately his work will not last. When the males return to this colony next year they will take all their rocks back.


Jan 8, 2017

Nest #1, banded male #1050 and his mate have returned to their nest. Even though they will not be raising a chick this year, this is still their home for the seaon and they will rest here between feeding. Both are very clean and well fed so have been in the cracks recently.

Jan 9, 2017

Compare this satellite image of our region with the one for Dec 22, 2016 below. The ice has not moved. We are winding down our time at Cape Royds and winter is on its way. If the ice does not blow out this year it will be stronger next year.

Skua chick

Jan 6, 2017

This Skua chick is about 10 days old and does not remain in the nest like the penguins. Their parents keep an eye on them and if I get too close they will dive bomb me, but these chicks wander the area even when they are small.

penguin chick

Jan 7, 2017

This penguin chick is well on his way to fledging. Notice his long wing and big feet. He is also very well fed and almost as big as the adult. The remaining nests at Cape Royds are doing well.

Jan 4, 2017

Maris Wicks slept here. When visitors come to see the penguins at Cape Royds they need to bring their own sleep tent. Maris is a cartoon artist who writes science comics. What an interesting career! She melds science and art and makes it fun. Our latest storm made sleeping not so much fun.

Jan 5, 2017

Sometimes one of the chicks is much smaller than the other. This makes it harder for them to compete for food with the older, stronger, bigger sibling. In this nest we see the parent favor the stronger chick and only feed the smaller one when the larger one is full.

Jan 2, 2017

Our ice crack has expanded and lengthened. This crack has saved Cape Royds penguin breeding colony. What chicks are left are getting fed with food from here, it is only 1 mile away. We are so happy and are starting to see fat chicks that are growing fast.

Jan 3, 2017

Part of our research is to find out what the penguins are eating. Normally I sit and watch them feed the chicks and mark what I see. In this case the bird brought his meal onto the ice as it was too large to swallow in the water. Tonight, fish is for dinner.

Dec 31, 2016

Happy New Year!. This is how McMurdo Research Station celebrates New Years Eve. Everyone who can play a musical instrument puts together a band and they create Icestock. It is cold, it is windy, but it is a fun day, complete with chili cookoff.   Jan 1, 2017 Happy New Year

penguin swimming

Dec 29, 2016

Penguins are very good swimmers and unlike a duck use only their wings to propel themselves. Here you see a penguin resting on the surface of the water using his wings to move around.

penguin swimming

Dec 30, 2016

This penguin is getting ready to dive. They sit on the surface taking several short breaths and then blow out the air under the water creating these bubbles. They will do this several times then dive for 3-5 min. holding their breath as they look for food.

Dec 27, 2017

When a nest fails and eggs are lost, many penguins still feel the need to 'brood' something. The instinct is very strong which helps in the larger picture for species survival. This penguin has chosen a rock about the same size as an egg to nest, keep warm, rotate care for.

Dec 28, 2016

YEAH ! ! Some of our parents have found the crack and are bringing food back to the nest. These chicks have full bellies as you can see here. This is great news and we are hopefull that many chicks will survive. In this nest there are 2 chicks getting fed, a rare event this season.

geo locator

Dec 25, 2016

Very little is known about where the penguins go in the winter (Mar-Oct). To find out we are putting these small geo-locators on the legs of a few selected birds. They will wear them for a full year.When they return to Cape Royds next season we will download the data to see where they went.

Dec 26, 2016

Attaching the geo-locator to the penguin is a two person job. One person holds the bird while the other attaches the band to the leg. It's like wearing a bracelet and does not hurt the penguin in any way. Now we have to wait 8 months before we can find out where they go. That is the hard part.

penguin feeding

Dec 24, 2016

Part of our study is to record what the penguins are eating. There is no way for use to tell unless we see them feed the chicks. Here is an exmple of krill being fed to the chick. Notice the pink globs of food in the rocks infront of the bird.

Skua chick

Dec 25, 2016

Skuas are doing well this year. With so much easy food in the penguin colony there are more Skua nests and more Skua chicks. These are long lived birds, we have a few who have been around Cape Royds for over 30 years.

Dec 22, 2016

Not all the Adelie penguin colonies are having trouble. Here is a map of Ross Island. You can see where Cape Royds is and how far our birds have to walk to the ocean (see also Nov 12). There are 30 000 Adelie penguins nesting at Beaufort Island right on the ocean. They are doing very well.

Beaufort Island

Dec 23, 2016

This Adelie penguin breeding colony on Beaufort Island is thriving. They are footsteps away from open ocean and all the food they need to raise their chicks.

Dec 20, 2016

Another problem of so many lost nests. This nest used to be in the middle and well protected from the Skuas. Notice all the empty nests around her that have failed leaving this one isolated from the rest. Everyday she has trouble with the Skuas, she is an easier target now.

Dec 21, 2016

The next day. This isolated nest was predated by the Skuas and both chicks are gone. She lingered here for a few hours and then left, her breeding season is over. In a few more hours the rocks will disappear as well and there will be no sign of this nest. Perhaps she and her mate will try again next year.


Dec 18, 2016

Today we re-visit the crack in the ice. It is about 20ft across, but mostly frozen over. There are a few holes for the penguins to get into the water, here is one of them. We do not know how much food they are able to get from this place, but about 100 birds were feeding here today.

penguin dive

Dec 19, 2016

This penguin is happy to jump into the crack in the ice. Food at last. Who knows how long this bird has gone without food or water. Some of our birds are well over 3 weeks.

Shackletons Hut

Dec 16, 2016

Shackleton's Hut from his Nimrod expedition, 1907-09. This is a World Heritage site at Cape Royds and represents a great story of early Antarctic exploration, brave and bold men, hardship and honor. If you would like to learn more go HERE

storm penguin

Dec 17, 2017

Today we are having a real Antarctic blizzard. We will not be leaving the tent as it is driving snow with winds over 35 mph. The birds are happy they live and thrive here. This parent is protecting the chicks from the wind, snow and cold and will not move until the storm is over.

snow petrel

Dec 14, 2016

Snow petrels. These magnificant birds fly around Cape Royds and feed on fish. They love the wind using it to swoop around the rocks and cliffs. Hard to catch on film, this was a lucky shot. Notice the coal-black eye.

Dec 15, 2016

And then there were none. This breeding colony has been competely wiped out. There are no more nests, eggs, birds, and there will be no chicks this year (see Dec 8, 10, 12). Other groups are also small, but many are getting very low in numbers. It will be harder and harder to protect from the Skuas.

Dec 12, 2016

And then there were two. Two more nests have failed in this breeding group. (see Dec 10 and 8 below) We are very sad, and can do nothing about it.

Dec 13, 2016

The crack we visited (see Dec 1,2 below), has largely frozen over. There are a few holes for the penguins to get in and out of, but it would be better if the crack were much larger. This seal can only put his nose through to get air.

Dec 10, 2016

And then there were four. This colony has lost two more nests (see Dec 8, below). As the birds leave it will be harder and harder for the remaining nests to protect the eggs.

Penguin chick

Dec 11, 2106

Our first chicks of the season, always a happy day. New life, new energy, and a new generation of Adelie Penguins for Cape Royds. This will be a difficult year for the adults to feed these chicks, the open ocean is still almost 50 miles away.

Dec 8, 2016

Our colony is having a rough year. This is the 'Exit' breeding group. Normally there are about 20 nests with eggs here. As you can see, today, there are only 6. The adults are leaving which means the Skuas have an easier time pulling the eggs off the other nests

Mt Erebus

Dec 9, 2016

Mt Erebus, the southern most active volcano on this Earth. Today the plume is particularly large and visible. There is a lava lake in the crater of this volcano that spits out lave almost twice a day.

Dec 6, 2016

Many of our birds have been on the nests without food and water for over a month. I first thought this bird was dead, although he is just very thin and hungry. The next day he was gone, I hope he made it the 50 miles to the ocean for food.

bold skua

Dec 7, 2016

In every situation there are winners and losers. This year it is the Skuas. There are so many eggs for the taking in the colony the Skuas do not have to work hard for their dinner. Here one is very bold in sitting in the middle of a breeding group and waiting for the eggs to become free.

abandon penguin nest

Dec 4, 2016

Every day we are loosing nests. You can see this breeding group has many empty nests and since this picture was taken we have lost 2 more. We hope the ice breaks out soon, or the crack we observed will have enough food for our Cape Royds penguins.

Dec 5, 2016

This is the first flag of the season. We are so excited to fly it at Cape Royds. It was made by the students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Thank you for sending us this beautiful flag.

abandoned penguin nest

Dec 3, 2016

It is a sad time at Cape Royds. Many of our brooding adults can no longer wait for their partner to return from the ocean. Some have been here a month without food or water, and are too hungry to stay.They are leaving their eggs behind: #1, Male has given up brooding, #2, he has left the nest, and the eggs have rolled out, #3, he is on his way to the ocean.

Picture #1

Picture # 2 and #3

ice crack

Dec 1, 2016

Today we spotted a crack in the ice about 2 miles from Cape Royds. If the crack is big enough for the penguins to feed in, that will save them the100 mi round trip to the open ocean. Here is a picture, it is big enough! Looks like some of it has frozen over in this cold weather. Notice the breathing holes

swiming penguin

Dec 2, 2106

The penguins are using this crack to search for food, this is good news. Here you see a penguin swimming along, notice the ice is about 3 ft thick. One thing we do not know is if there is enough food in the water for them here.

Nov 29, 2016

The Skuas have had an easy time of feeding on penguin eggs this year. Normally they need to snatch them from underneath a sitting bird, this year there are plenty of abandoned nests. Here you can see a place where they bring the eggs to eat. I have never seen so many eggs in one place.

Skua perch

Nov 30, 2016

This Skua is just waiting for another male to get up and leave. The males get too hungry and give up incubating for food, which is still a 50 mile walk away. From his perch the Skua can monitor over 50 nests. It is hard to watch this, but we are here as observers only and cannot interfere.

emperor penguins

Nov 27, 2017

This Emperor family is together for a brief time on the frozen sea ice. You can see the chick is almost as big as the adults. The chicks can stay warm in the coat of feathers they have, but cannot stay dry in the water.  We hope the sea ice does not melt before these chicks are ready to swim.

lost nest

Nov 28, 2016

Many of our males have been in the colony for over 3 weeks and have been without food or water for the entire time. The females have 50 miles to walk for food and 50 miles back before they can relieve the males. Some of the males have left their nest and eggs to the Skuas.

emperor colony

Nov 25, 2017

We take a Thanksgiving Holiday from Cape Royds to visit the rest of our team and the Adelie penguin colony at Cape Crozier. In addition to Adelies, the Emperor penguins breed here. These birds never come onto land, instead they incubate the single egg on their feet during the Antarctic winter. They are protected by winds in the crevasses of the ice shelf. Here you see their colony out on the sea ice near the shelf.

emperor chick

Nov 26, 2017

The Emperor chicks hatch in Aug-Sept so by Nov. are large enough to be left alone. The chicks have plenty of feathers to keep them warm and are too big to be bothered by the Skuas. Both parents are out in the ocean finding food to feed this hungry chick.

wind graph

Nov 23, 2017

We were stuck in the tent for two days while a large storm came through the Ross Island area. You can see the record of the winds here. At one point the winds were so strong the snow was coming up through the floor in our tent-hut.

Antarctic storm

Nov 24, 2017

During the storm it was very cold and with the strong winds, our small heater had trouble keeping the tent-hut above freezing. This is our senior scientist Katie Dugger keeping warm at her desk as the storm rages on the other side of the canvas.

Nov 21, 2017

The Skuas are back. When egg laying starts at Cape Royds the Skuas show up and eating is easy. Many of the penguin nests will lose their eggs (see Nov 20) and the Skuas will clean up the colony by eating them. This is the way nature works.

Nov 22, 2107

The brood patch. These penguins lay and nest only two eggs. The reason is the brood patch which you see here which is only big enough for two eggs. The feathers are not warm, it is the penguin’s body that is warm so this patch of feather-free skin is where the eggs sit to incubate. There is only room for two.

injured penguin

Nov 19, 2017

An update on our challenged penguin. Here he is on a nest with an egg. He will be here for several days before he returns to the ocean to feed. I hope the ocean will be closer by then so he will not have to walk so far. These are sturdy birds and this one will not let his handicap get in the way of his life or what he wants to do. A good lesson for all of us.

lost nests

Nov 20, 2017

These two nests will not hatch eggs. The upper nest has been abandoned. The male left as he was too hungry to stay on the nest. Plus he stepped on the egg on his way out so this nest is lost. The lower nest are young parents who do not quite understand they need to sit on the egg. This nest is lost as well.

hurt penguin

Nov 17, 2016

This bird has lost his foot. We do not know when or how. It may have been an accident, a predator, or perhaps he was born this way. It doesn’t seem to bother him, he made the complete 50 mi trip over ice to Cape Royds and his nest here. Penguins are strong sturdy and determined birds.

penguin nest

Nov 18, 2016

Compare this nest to the one in the picture of Nov 16. They are the same one. As predicated the adult is now sitting on eggs and will not get off them to defend his pile of rocks. He can only defend as far as he can reach. What you see is the result of other birds stealing the rocks outside of his reach. He will have to make do with this smaller version of his record breaking nest.

cape royds camp

Nov 15, 2016

A new tent for our research station at Cape Royds. It is larger and warmer than our tent last year which was destroyed in a storm. Our power is supplied by the solar panel you see on the left and the internet antenna is on the hill. We sleep in the Scott tents around the corner. No they are not heated, yes we do sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag, yes it is cold.

penguin nest

Nov 16, 2016

This is the biggest nest I have ever seen at Cape Royds. There must be hundreds of rocks. The penguin has worked hard to create such a lovely home, but it will not last long. When he is on eggs he will not be able to defend any rocks beyond his reach from the nest, my guess in a few days most of them will be taken by other males looking for easy rocks to find.


Nov 12, 2016

This satellite image shows the ice edge almost 50 miles from Cape Royds. The penguins would prefer to swim, but will need to walk this entire distance to get to the breeding colony. On their way, they pass Cape Bird where 30 000 penguins will stop and build their nests. What makes Cape Royds penguins do this extra distance?

Nov 14, 2016

This is a young pair of Adelie penguins and they may never have had a nest before. It seems they do not realize they must keep the egg warm. Today it is -14oC, too cold to leave the egg unattended. This egg will probably not hatch.