Here are five key moments in the life of a baby penguin, as explored in the show:
Born in the Depths of WinterEmperor chicks hatch during the harsh Antarctic winter (they're the only penguin species that do so), taking refuge in the father’s downy pouch while the mother goes fishing out at sea. In the meantime, fathers produce a milk-like liquid from their throat glands to nourish the chicks after birth. Weary but with bellies full of fish, the mothers return to meet and feed their chicks for the first time—no easy feat in a colony of up to 5,000 birds. To ease the confusion, the females use a unique braying call to find their partners and newborns.
Beyond the PouchAfter just a few weeks the chicks leave the pouch to try out their flippers on the ice. Now the parents’ biggest challenge is to guard them from other females. Penguins that have failed to breed will stop at nothing to steal a chick and pass it off as their own.
First Day of SchoolEventually the growing babies are coaxed out of their pouch cribs completely, and are made to join a penguin “day-care”—a fluffy huddle of chicks that shield each other against the chill. This allows parents to fish together for the first time, doubling the amount they can feed to their ravenous offspring.
Teenage WastelandThe parents then go out on a long foraging trip to treat their ballooning chicks to one last feast. Afterward, they turn on their tails and leave, after five months of dedicated caregiving. At first the abandoned youth huddle together, seemingly bewildered—until instinct kicks in, and they begin their first-ever migration across the wind-whipped ice.
Leap of FaithUsing their beaks to brush out their down along the way, Emperor chicks slowly reveal their striking adult plumage. It’s the final goodbye to their childhood: Once they reach the Antarctic Ocean, their adult adventure begins. At just 60 percent of their adult weight, the juveniles jump into the sea, where they’ll spend four years swimming, eating, and sleeping on the polar waters. Months of dedicated parental care pays off for this species: About 95 percent of Emperor chicks survive their first year. Eventually, they return to their birthplace, ready to breed and begin the entire cycle anew.
* * *"Snow Chick" premieres on PBS at 8 p.m. EST on February 24. You can also visit pbs.org to watch the full episode after it airs tomorrow.
Correction: Penguins don't have talons, as previously stated in the article.