At XXX nest numbers are down. It is the first breeding season in seven years (since Rosalie took over the penguin hospital) that there are fewer nests than the year before. Rosalie, however, is looking at the glass as half full.
There are 23 nests at XXX, and 23 nests at Barracouta Bay (one more than last year), all together 46 pairs of yellow-eyed penguins sitting on eggs and hopefully able to raise up two big fat chicks. She is happy to see Diesel (the 20-year-old patriarch of the colony) and Lady Diesel have returned because every year that Diesel comes back is a bonus. Despite his age he is a dependable and successful breeder. Lady Diesel was in hospital for a very long stay last year, and seeing her on her nest is very satisfying.
Glass half empty? Mostly females are missing, so their partners prepared beautiful nest bowls and then waited in vain for their return. They now face the breeding season alone. Normally, a suddenly-single male would find a juvenile female to replace his lost partner. Their first attempts at breeding might fail, but eventually they’d get it right. In a year or two the eggs would be fertile, their chicks would fledge and they would have a successful partnership. But this year, not one juvenile has returned to XXX. At the best of times, juvenile mortality is about 70% (the first winter in the ocean is TOUGH) but this year it looks like we may have lost all of them.
The goal for the penguin hospital this season, however, is no different than any other season. Keep the birds as healthy as possible on land because we have no power over what is happening in the ocean. Let’s hope this summer the ocean will provide abundant fish exactly where the fish should be.