National Geographic : 1955 Jan
113 Baby Kings Are Scarcely Slick Chicks For their first year, king penguins stay around the rookery. Their frowzy Teddy-bear costumes are chocolate brown. Correctly attired grownups turn away from these three unkempt fellows standing with feet in slush. penguin colony on Elsehul and saw two leopards lurking off the rocks. They floated with the humps of their thin backs just awash, raising their heads only to breathe before re suming their surveillance of the submarine traffic below. I turned away for a while; then, happen ing to look back, I saw that one of them had something in its jaws. It gave two or three vigorous jerks of its head, sending the spray flying, and dived steeply in the clear water, leaving an object floating on the surface. I had no telescope with me, but I am sure that I witnessed the peeling of an unfortunate penguin and that it was just skin and feathers that remained afloat. Following the riverbank on our homeward journey from Undine Harbour one afternoon, we were attacked by several pairs of skuas in turn. The great skua (Catharacta skua), which breeds in Britain only in the Orkneys and Shetlands, plummets downward like a dive bomber. It makes straight for the head, checking its descent only at the last second and delivering an unpleasant blow with the backs of its feet as it passes. This skua will attack only from the rear. I had learned that if I turned my head sharply as the attack came in the bird would instantly alter course. A walking stick held a few feet above my head sufficed to ward off an assault. The Antarctic, or brown, skua (Catharacta lonnbergi) shows all the traditional tactics and cunning of this northern bird, but with one noticeable difference. It will attack from any direction-front, flank, or rear-so that a facial battering is a real possibility. Walking Stick Angers Skuas When I first saw a South Georgian skua coming straight at my face, I assumed it would sheer off while still some distance away. Many days spent with the Shetland Island birds had taught me their particular methods; with a skua of similar appearance I expected similar behavior. But when this great brown bomber held on its course and was within a few feet of my eyes, I hurriedly forgot all I had learned in Shetland and almost banged my nose on my knees getting out of its way. Another difference between the Antarctic skua and its northern cousin is that the former will attack just as intensely any article carried above the level of the head, even a gun barrel.