By Cara Sulieman
LOVE IS in the air at Edinburgh Zoo as the penguin mating season gets under way.
The female gentoo penguins have taken their place on the nesting rings scattered around the enclosure and are waiting for male penguins to offer them a token of love in the shape of a pebble.
This unique courting ritual will be played out over the following weeks – and will be broadcast live on the zoo’s webcam.
The female bird will only take the pebble that catches her eye, and the male that gives it to her becomes her mate.
But there are also cases of “pebble envy” within the group, with sneaky male penguins trying to nab the best looking pebbles from other nests for their own sweetheart.
“Pebble motivated squabbles”
Roslin Talbot, Head Keeper at Edinburgh Zoo said: “Penguins are one of the visitors’ favourite animals in the zoo and this time of year is always a good time to see them as there is lots of activity going on.
“Pebble envy is natural gentoo behaviour but as males compete for their female’s affections then we do witness lots of pebble motivated squabbles.”
The birds – which have a bright orange beaks and white stripes on their heads – usually lay two eggs which should hatch in May.
Last year the gentoos celebrated a record-breaking mating season with 30 chicks hatched from 112 eggs.
It was the arrival of three king penguins from a 1914 expedition that gave the zoo its global reputation, as these were the first penguins ever seen outside their South Atlantic homeland.
Penguins remain one of the most popular attractions at the zoo, with the daily “penguin parade” continuing to attract large numbers of visitors to this day.
The penguin population at the zoo is also celebrating after the birth of a king penguin chick born last October.
Staff recently confirmed that the chick is a male after a blood sample was taken to determine his sex.