Emperors and Chicks

11" x 18",    Oil on panel,    1995

By October, the ten-week old emperor penguin chicks form into crêches because both parents must now go to sea for food. At this time of the year they may have to cross many miles of solid pack ice to find open water in which to feed and then fill their crops with krill to return to their young. As the days lengthen and spring turns into summer the pack breaks its icy hold on the continent, and the distance the parents travel to gather food for their ravenous and growing chick becomes shorter as it's needs increase, until the waters lap the fast ice on which the colony stands.

After loosing their downy coat, young emperor penguins take to the water for the first time in late summer weighing about 10 kilos. For perhaps five years they spend their lives on the open pack ice except for their annual moult at the colony before finally returning to breed as adults birds weighing 35-40 kilos.

Depicted here is a group of chicks from the crêche with older birds which instinctively remain at the colony during this time.

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