Sounds of the Colony

Here are some sounds that penguins make and what researchers belive they mean. Adelie Penguins use sounds to attarct mates, find their chicks, ward off predators, show displeasure at a neighbor or passers by, keep together as they swim, find ohters out on the ice floes, or warn of a soon-to-occur attack. They also locate their mates and chicks in the crowd.

Click the picture to hear the sounds of the penguin.
This male is calling to announce ownership of his territory. It’s called the Ecstatic Display, and is actually the ‘song’ of the Adelie Penguin (same idea as the singing of song birds or calling of roosters). On his nest of rocks, he stretches upward, points to the sky, and waves his wings back and forth. This shows the black upper side and then the lower white side of his flippers, which makes a sort of flickering effect. At the same time he’s calling, trying to make his voice as low as possible, to indicate masculinity. His message: “Here am I, This is my territory.” To other males he’s telling them to stay away; to females he’s asking them to notice and to approach.  
The nest greeting. The bird on the left just came back from the sea. When it gets near the nest, it begins to call loudly to announce its presence, “This is me, Here I am!” It is a very personal call having distinct tones. This calling woke the bird on the nest and, recognizing its mate’s voice, it began calling in the same way: “This is me, Here I am (too)!” There was mutual recognition. In this picture they are both calling, and weaving their heads back and forth in unison. Some people call this the Loud Mutual Display. However, a bird returning to its territory, or confronting a predator (skua), will give this call as it approaches the nest or predator. Therefore, another name is the Locomotory Hesitance Vocalization (LHV). Many other birds do this when approaching a spot that has special meaning, such as its nest, perch, competitor or mate.  
This penguin is expressing mild displeasure to its neighbor, who might be advertising (Ecstatic Display) to a bird, likely an unattached female, who is wandering by. Or, he just holds a grudge against that neighbor. This is called the ‘Bill-to-Axilla Display’, because the penguin points its beak at its wing-pit (axilla) and growls as it rotates its head back and forth. This cuts off the air in its throat making its growl sound. This bird’s message: “Be quiet, friend, you’re not as special as you think you are!”


Gakkering. These birds are disagreeing about the the boundary line between their nests. They erect their crests, and point their open bills at one another, twisting their heads one way then the other. Just about all colonial seabirds have this call and use it in this situation. They’re saying, “Move away, please!” These disputes rarely end up in a fight, usualy one bird just turns away, which causes them both to settle down. 

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Direct Stare and growl. This penguin means total business with no doubts, “I’m coming at you, go away!” This is what a skua sees when a penguin wants to cause it bodily harm. The penguin is looking right at its target, with eyes wide and crest erect. It is growling, just like a dog. The bird charges at the skua or other opponent trying to grasp it in its bill, then thrashing it with its flippers.

At this age, when the chick wants food, it peeps and wags its head. The parent reaches down to let the chick insert its beak inside its mouth. Tiny bits of semi-digested food pass to the chick.

A close-up of parents and chick confirming each other’s identity before feeding begins. Each is giving its own Loud Mutual Display or greeting call.

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When standing at the water's edge a group of Adelie Penguins will jostle and bump into each other. They also 'gak' a great deal as if to say " If you go in I will go in," "No you go first, "No YOU go first," "I will if you will." Leopard seals linger at the ice edge waiting for groups of penguins to jump in, this is a stressful time for these birds and no one wants to be the first.