The mating calls of male penguins speak volumes about their ability to be quality fathers.
Penguins know a sexy voice when they hear one. What might sound like squawks and squeals to our human ears are melodious clues about the quality of fatherhood to a female penguin. Those courtship calls are key to mate selection, says a study in the journal Behaviour.
Antarctic penguins come on land for just a few short months each summer to breed and raise their chicks. Raising a family in the coldest place on earth is no small feat. Adelie penguins pull it off by tag-team parenting, the researchers explained. Males and females take turns incubating the eggs and guarding the chicks while their mate forages for food.
Males arrive first to claim a territory and build a nest. When the females arrive, the males serenade prospective mates by throwing their heads back, pointing their beaks to the sky, and emitting a series of hoarse trills and squawks.
“They’re not musical calls — they sound like a cross between a donkey and a stalled car,” said author Emma Marks of the University of Auckland. Penguin calls may not be music to our ears, but to penguin females they hold clues to a male’s paternal potential, Marks and colleagues report.