Animals throughout the world are not generally renowned for being caring towards their young. In fact, the birthing of wildebeest calves in the Great Migration ensures there are too many of them, as many will predictably die from hunger, dehydration and predators. But penguins are different, passionate about their young. So passionate that the males bear out the harshest winter conditions, seemingly so the chicks are born at the optimum time to feed when the oceans are most abundant.
Summer in the southern hemisphere is from January to March, and at this time when the ice is breaking up, the Emperor penguins head out to sea to binge on krill, squid and fish. As March brings with it the end of summer, they start to head inland towards their rookery at Snow Hill. In the frozen rookery, the female will lay just one egg which will be passed onto the male penguin (and life partner) via an awkward looking foot pass, to be incubated by his stomach over the harsh winter.
The females return to the ocean to feed over the winter, but the males brave out the cold performing the classic penguin huddle. This delicate procedure entails thousands of male penguins, most with their egg carefully balanced on their webbed feet, huddling together forming a huge mass of black and white. Those on the outside, bearing the brunt of the icy 100 mile per hour winds, slowly make their way into the huddle as the warm ones in the middle make their way out, ensuring each member of the group has time to warm up before facing the cold again.
Around August, the eggs begin to hatch and out come the fluffy, immediately adorable chicks. The females are returning from the ocean around now, full bellied and keen to meet the new addition to their family, they scour the rookery for their mate and chick. Now on to to mother for babysitting duty so the males can go out and feed; it will have been months since he last ate and a harsh winter to get through with no food. For a while, the male and female will take it in turns to feed. Once the chick can join the huddle, they can feed at the same time, resulting in a lot more delicious marine cuisine for the chick and a fast weight gain.
As the spring comes in, the chicks begin to moult their downy feathers, making way for the more mature looking waterproof plumage penguins are renowned for. Simultaneously, the ice is beginning to melt again, clearing the path to the ocean for the chick's very first journey there with their parents. This is when we can see them, as access to the rookery is at its best, the weather is warming and bright, and the entire penguin family is well fed, getting ready for their first ocean outing.