Freeze Me, Please! Another Bid Text (1)

I’ve changed my bid text to tell an anecdote about penguins and the predatory skua.

I’m not just interested in falcons. I’ve done research on lekking greater prairie chickens. Diane and I were called upon to help researchers test captive-bred prairie chicken response to raptors. We observed the prairie chickens respond to a hawk flying over their pen. These were naive birds, but the whole population hit the deck and stayed put when the hawk flew over the pens, showing that the captive-bred birds still had the instinct to cower intact.

The Antarctic has its own avian predator. The skuas are gulls that will prey upon penguin chicks and even adult penguins. These are large, aggressive birds, described by some as “seagulls from hell”. William Evans told me about an early penguin exhibit, and how people accidentally observed some instinctual behavior in penguins interacting with skuas. A feature that we don’t see in current penguin exhibits was the inclusion of two skuas. The skuas initially spent their time bullying the assembled penguins. A wild penguin can flee from a pursuing skua, and corners tend to be uncommon. It didn’t take long for one of the penguins to find itself cornered by a skua. The cornered penguin pecked back at the harassing skua. One reason penguins don’t often bother with trying to engage a skua attacker is that skuas fly and penguins don’t. But these two skuas had their wings clipped. The skua gave a flap that lifted it momentarily off the ground. Every penguin there suddenly swiveled its head to bear on the skua, then attacked. Within seconds, there were no longer any live skuas in the exhibit.

So I’m interested in seeing what these interactions are like in the wild for myself. Please give me your vote and I’ll enjoy telling you what I learn.

Please give me a hand by voting for my bid and passing that on to other people you know.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.