Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 7, pp 1145–1156 | Cite as

Do penguins dare to walk at night? Visual cues influence king penguin colony arrivals and departures

  • Anna P. NesterovaEmail author
  • Céline Le Bohec
  • David Beaune
  • Emeline Pettex
  • Yvon Le Maho
  • Francesco Bonadonna
Original Paper


Orientation based on visual cues can be extremely difficult in crowded bird colonies due to the presence of many individuals. We studied king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) that live in dense colonies and are constantly faced with such problems. Our aims were to describe adult penguin homing paths on land and to test whether visual cues are important for their orientation in the colony. We also tested the hypothesis that older penguins should be better able to cope with limited visual cues due to their greater experience. We collected and examined GPS paths of homing penguins. In addition, we analyzed 8 months of penguin arrivals to and departures from the colony using data from an automatic identification system. We found that birds rearing chicks did not minimize their traveling time on land and did not proceed to their young (located in crèches) along straight paths. Moreover, breeding birds' arrivals and departures were affected by the time of day and luminosity levels. Our data suggest that king penguins prefer to move in and out of the colony when visual cues are available. Still, they are capable of navigating even in complete darkness, and this ability seems to develop over the years, with older breeding birds more likely to move through the colony at nighttime luminosity levels. This study is the first step in unveiling the mysteries of king penguin orientation on land.


Short-range navigation King penguins Seabirds Visual landmarks Nocturnal movements Aptenodytes patagonicus 



We are extremely grateful to G. R. Martin for the stimulating discussion regarding penguin vision and calculations of the estimate of king penguin visual threshold. We want to thank our field assistants for their help in the field. We are indebted to F.S. Dobson and J.D. Whittington for their valuable comments on the earlier versions of the manuscript. Many thanks are due to the Institute Polaire Français—Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV) and Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises for the logistical support provided on the field. Also, we are indebted to Météo France for sharing their meteorological data with us. The research was funded by a grant from the French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs—Lavoisier to C. Le Bohec, I.P.E.V. grants to F. Bonadonna (ETHOTAAF 354) and to Y. Le Maho (ECOPHY 137) and National Science Foundation International Research Fellowship (#0700939) to A. P. Nesterova. This study was performed according to IPEV and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique guidelines for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and complied with current French regulations.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna P. Nesterova
    • 1
    Email author
  • Céline Le Bohec
    • 2
    • 3
  • David Beaune
    • 3
  • Emeline Pettex
    • 1
  • Yvon Le Maho
    • 3
  • Francesco Bonadonna
    • 1
  1. 1.Behavioural Ecology GroupCEFE–CNRSMontpellierFrance
  2. 2.Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Département d’Ecologie, Physiologie, et EthologieIPHC–CNRSStrasbourgFrance

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