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Penguins & Chicks Definitive
Penguins are the most common birds in the Antarctic. Living in colonies
with populations larger than some cities, and surviving in the harshest
There are 17 different species of penguin but only six reside in the
Antarctic on a permanent basis. Of these six, two can claim the
continent of Antarctica as their homeland – emperors and Adélies. Three
others breed in the Antarctic Peninsula – chinstrap, macaronis and
gentoos. King penguins breed on the warmer more northerly subantarctic
Antarctic penguins have a striking black and white coat. All have
similar body form and structure, but they vary greatly in size. The
distinctive colours and features of each penguin species are on their
heads and neck. It is these features, together with the chicks of each
species, that are highlighted on these new definitive stamps from the
British Antarctic Territory.
Fossil records show that penguins evolved from flying birds (petrels)
about 50 million years ago. There were at least 25 species, many of
which have become extinct. Some fossil penguins were larger than the
ones that exist today, with one species almost as tall as a man (170cm).
Penguins are highly evolved to be able to live in the coldest of places.
Also, unable to fly, they have evolved into the most efficient swimmers
and divers of all birds. Their wings are stiff, short flippers to propel
them underwater — they literally fly through the sea. Their legs are set
far back in the body, and together with the tail form an underwater
rudder to their perfectly streamlined bodies. Their cruising speed in
water is about 10km per hour. To catch their breath and to save energy
while swimming, they leap clear of the water every few metres.
They are excellent divers, descending to depths of over 250 metres,
though most of their dives will be in the top 10 metres. Unlike flying
birds, their bones are dense to make diving easier. Underwater they are
every bit as fearsome to their prey as lions are to theirs!
However, penguins are rarely seen underwater, so our main impression of
them is confined to how they appear on land, where they remain
surprisingly agile and can travel great distances on foot.
Penguins are sociable creatures both on land and at sea. Their colonies
— known as rookeries — are often huge, with up to a million nesting
pairs. In the pure Antarctic air, you can smell a penguin rookery from a
long way away! Penguins generally breed on exposed rock, beaches or
tussock grass, with the exception of the emperor, which breeds on
A healthy adult penguin on land has no natural predators, though eggs
and chicks are eaten by other birds (skuas and giant petrels). Penguins
usually live in places free of land predators, against which they would
be defenceless. However, in water, penguins are hunted by leopard seals
and killer whales. Leopard seals cruise the ice edge next to penguin
colonies, waiting for the birds to plunge into the water.
The penguin diet consists mainly of fish and squid and crustaceans. In
the Antarctic, the smaller penguins mostly feed on shrimp-like krill.
Although krill are small (up to 5cm in length) they form dense swarms
which are a rich food source. Penguins can adapt their diet to what is
available, and their diet varies considerably with season.
The total number of breeding pairs of penguins in the Antarctic region
is estimated to be about 20 million. Although this covers a huge
geographical area, the penguins are concentrated in coastal regions.
Huddled up in the cold of winter, emperor penguins can reach a density
of 19 birds per square metre.
The timing of breeding is crucial for penguins. Unlike humans, which can
have babies at any time of year, the penguin breeding cycle is finely
tuned, so that chicks hatch and are ready to fend for themselves when
food is most plentiful.
They are very sensitive to environmental conditions. Breeding success is
usually controlled by the abundance and availability of prey. If sea-ice
does not break away, or krill numbers are low, then huge breeding
failures can occur, and few chicks survive.
Most penguins (except the emperor and king) lay more than one egg,
usually two. Incubation duties are shared by both parents, working in
shifts until the chick hatches, with varying shift lengths from daily
changeovers (gentoo) to over a month (emperor). When old enough, the
chicks gather together in a crèche, watched over by a few adults. This
allows both parents to feed at sea, and provides protection from the
cold and predators.
12 value issue 1p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, 66p, 76p, £1, £1.20, £2, £3.50, £5
Macaroni Penguin Chick Derren Fox
All other images © Sue Flood
Process Stochastic lithography
Perforation 13 ¼ x 13 ½ per 2cms
Stamp size 42 x 28mm
Sheet Layout 10
Release date Expected November, 2018
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd