60-Second Earth

Global Warming Freezes Penguin Chicks

More rain related to a warming climate soaks Magellanic penguin chicks to the skin before their waterproof feathers grow in, killing them from hypothermia. Allie Wilkinson reports

Life isn’t easy for a penguin chick. There’s a lot to worry about: predators, having enough food, and now the changing climate.

Researchers spent nearly thirty years tracking chicks at Punta Tombo, the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins. They found that increased rainfall and extreme heat due to climate change are killing chicks. The study is in the journal PLoS ONE. [P. Dee Boersma and Ginger A. Rebstock, Climate Change Increases Reproductive Failure in Magellanic Penguins

Down-covered chicks are too big to receive parental protection from the elements, but are not old enough to have grown protective waterproof feathers. So they get soaked to the skin during rainstorms and die of hypothermia. Their downy feathers do them a disservice during heat waves too, since they can't go for a swim to cool off until their waterproof feathers grow in.
Chicks not getting enough food are even more susceptible to the elements, as they lack the fuel to maintain their body temperature.
Storms during breeding season are already on the rise, and are expected to keep increasing. So climate change will likely pose a challenge not only in Magellanic penguins, but other seabirds as well. It’ll be sink or swim.

—Allie Wilkinson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

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