Stunning documentary tells the story of a tiny Emperor penguin, from his egg being laid until the day he leaves his family behind at five months old
- New BBC1 documentary follows the birth and rearing of Emperor penguin
- Snow Chick, narrated by Kate Winslet, is set to be a festive TV highlight
- It shows him being born, his first footsteps and the day he leaves his family
From their cute waddle to their incredible survival skills, penguins have long fascinated us.
Now a BBC1 documentary to be screened at 8.30pm tonight promises to delight us like never before as it traces the story of one tiny Emperor penguin, from its emergence into the cold of Antarctica, through its first freezing steps on the ice until the momentous day it leaves its family at just five months old.
Snow Chick, narrated by Kate Winslet, is set to be one of the highlights of this year's festive TV schedule. Producer John Downer says: 'For this tiny creature to survive in the most brutal conditions on Earth is a true adventure.'
Here, frame by heart-melting frame, Tanith Carey charts Snow Chick's enchanting story . . .
1. DADDY'S IN CHARGE
There's no such thing as maternity leave and the moment Snow Chick's mum laid her egg, she set off across the ice in search of food — fish and squid — for her baby. Mum's 120-mile round trip means Dad is left to incubate the egg — in his brood pouch, a pocket like an upside down tea cosy
2. FIRST GLIMPSE
For any penguin chick, hatching on to the Antarctic ice is a battle for survival — especially in mid-winter. Producer John Downer says: 'His egg wasn't hatching. But when one of the other dads brought his chick over, his baby calls seemed to encourage Snow Chick to come out of his shell'
3. HURRY UP MUM, I'M HUNGRY
If Mum is not back in time, Dad makes do by feeding his newborn a milky secretion from a gland at the back of his throat. But it's still not enough for a growing baby. Snow Chick is so famished waiting for his mother's return, he pecks at the snow in his desperation for something to fill him up. Mum has been delayed. A leopard seal, the penguin's greatest enemy, had lunged at her through the ice, causing her to get separated from a group of other females. John Downer says: 'This can be critical to their survival. If the mothers are delayed by a day or two, the chicks die of starvation'
4. HONEY, I'M HOME
As Snow Chick starts to get weaker, Mum arrives back just in time. Yet meeting up with her mate - and baby - is not always easy. Even to the eye of a penguin, other adult penguins look identical, so they identify each other by their calls, which are like a cross between a gull's call and a croak. Finally after inspecting the colony, Mum hears her partner's voice and the family come together for the first time
5. OFF YOU GO, SON
At around six weeks old, Snow Chick, who is now covered almost from head to foot in fluffy grey down, is finally able to start walking on his own two feet. Just like a human toddler, he's finding it takes some practice
6. HIS FIRST STEPS
Snow Chick has survived the extremely harsh conditions of the first couple of months of his life and now he's running around and exploring, keen to investigate this new and exciting world — under the watchful eye of his mother, naturally
7. WHOOPS! IT'S SLIPPY
In one heart-stopping moment, he falls off a snowdrift and Mum loses sight of him. Her desperate cries are lost in the wind and she heads off in the wrong direction. Snow Chick does the sensible thing and heads back to the colony desperately approaching one female after another in search of his mother
8. OI! LEAVE MY BOY ALONE
As the smallest - and perhaps the cutest - baby in the colony, Snow Chick often finds himself smothered in love by other broody females. The mothering instinct is so strong that some childless singletons try to kidnap him and put him in their own brood pouches. In one unique sequence, a gang of maiden aunts is seen almost squashing Snow Chick to death before his protective dad barges in and rescues him just in time by angrily shooing away the other females
9. HIS FIRST DAY AT NURSERY
As every parent knows, it's not easy leaving your little one at nursery for the first time. At the age of two months, Snow Chick is no different. Still too shy to mix, he has to be pushed in the right direction by his father's beak. And just like real school, it can be difficult to make friends, especially with the bigger boys. Finally, after some pushing and shoving to force his way in, he is finally allowed to join a creche of 40 young birds his age. This is vital training for a penguin as they must learn how to get on well in order to huddle together and keep warm
10. A DEADLY GAME OF HIDE-AND-SEEK
As spring arrives, the better weather brings new dangers in the form of petrels - scavenging birds with wingspans of up to 7ft - which prey on isolated chicks. Snow Chick is an obvious target. Now it's up to the maiden aunts to keep the little ones safe while the parents are away looking for food. Luckily, Snow Chick's soft plumage is starting to moult - so an attacker gets only a mouthful of fluff. It gives the chick a chance to dodge behind his child-minders in a deadly game of hide-and-seek, which ends when the predator goes in search of easier scraps
11. SKATING LESSONS
As the weather warms up, the snow melts, but then refreezes at night, creating a giant ice rink. Although penguins are streamlined in the water, on land it's a different story. They can walk at only 2mph and despite feet with tyre-like ridges and claws like crampons, Snow Chick is as unsteady on the ice as any toddler
12. I'M NEARLY AS BIG AS YOU, DAD
By the age of five months, Snow Chick is now nearly at his full height of 4ft and can eat as much as 5kg of fish in a sitting — brought to him by his doting parents. Yet despite all their hard work, Emperor parents don't escort their offspring to their final destination, the Antarctic Ocean. Instead, Mum and Dad simply waddle off, never to return, with barely a backwards glance
13. LOOK OUT WORLD - HERE I COME!
A throng of youngsters, who have all grown up with each other, huddle together, hoping their parents will come back with more fish. But they never do. As they wait, they spend their time picking off the remains of their grey plumage to reveal sleek black-and-white coats underneath. Finally driven by hunger, the little Emperors follow their instincts and head towards the ocean. Once the most timid member of the group, Snow Chick is the first to take the plunge (circled) — even if only by accident.
As a piece of ice breaks off, he slips down the bank and into the water. Now the most experienced member of his crew, he leads the gang into the ocean which will be their home for the next four years. He'll return only when he is old enough to make the journey back to the breeding ground, find a partner and have a chick of his own.