Today’s Factismal: Gentoo penguins and chinstrap penguins make nests out of pebbles so that rain and melting snow can drain out of the nest.
The problem with being a bird that lives in Antarctica is that there aren’t very many trees. Actually, there aren’t any trees at all; the vegetation is mostly mosses and lichens with the occasional blood algae for color. That’s a problem because birds use trees to hide from predators and, more importantly, to build nests that will protect their eggs.
Fortunately for the penguins in Antarctica, there aren’t very many predators on the land (in the water is another matter). But they still need to protect their eggs. Some penguins, such as the Emperor penguin, use their feet. For 64 days, the proud papa balances the egg on his feet until the chick finally hatches. Even after that, the parents will take turns holding the chick on their feet until it is large enough to survive on its own.
But most penguins aren’t willing to sit in one place while balancing an egg on their toes for two months. They crave a better life. And they get it by building nests. And, for the most part, those nests are built out of pebbles. Though cold and pointy, pebbles offer one indisputable advantage to nests built out of clay (like those of the ovenbird) or spittle (like those of the swift) or dug into the sand (like those of the kingfisher) – pebbles drain. And when you live in a climate as wet as the coast of Antarctica, you need a nest that will drain.
Though you may not be able to go to Antarctica to observe a penguin nest, you can help scientists by looking for bird’s nests in your own neighborhood. The folks at NestWatch need your help to locate and identify nests across the globe – so why not flock together with them?