Can penguins talk? Can they communicate? What are the displays? Do penguins fight? Do they sing to each other? Do penguins use some sort of sign language in order to convey their message? Do they have to transmit information?
I think all of us have seen penguins on a TV or zoo. They all look exactly the same. Their appearances are so identical that we are unable to distinguish between different penguins. Members of a large colony of penguins are nearly indistinguishable by sight. So it means penguins have special vocalization behavior that allows them to recognize their mates and children. It shows that communication is of vital importance for them. They have a very loud voice similar to a donkey braying. Differences in the calls of male and female penguins are also observed which probably help in courtship and mate selection.
Penguin vocalizations are not popular. We are only familiar with the dog barking, bee buzzing, cat meowing, etc. They need to contact their colony mates, mate with a female, take care of their chicks, that’s why they have to produce sound. The nature of their communication depends upon the species, the situation and the need.
- Penguin’s vocalizations are very noisy.
Penguins seem very noisy at times. Apparently, we can’t imagine them shouting and calling one another because they look highly peaceful and calm. But they do have specific vocalization activity. These calls are identified by their mates and chicks. Similarly, chicks can recognize the calls of both parents. There are various kinds of calls. Each call has its own meaning. There are basically three different kinds of calls.
- Why is vocalization important?
Let’s check why the call is important. Just imagine that a penguin comes back after getting its food. He now has to find his mate as well as his chick. What will he do now? Some penguins recognize their family members by finding them in the same nesting site. But it’s not possible in the case of emperor penguins who live without proper nesting sites. So there is no fixed spot where they can go and find their family. Only a huge crowd of penguins standing around on a flat sheet of ice is present and all the emperor penguins look pretty much the same. Now how to figure out who’s who??
Emperor penguins make a special two-voiced call that can be used for individual recognition. This identification system is also present in king penguins who carry their eggs in their feet instead of building nests. These penguins produce a two-voiced call which is used for individual recognition. Species of penguins that build nests don’t seem to use two-voiced calls since they can find each other by returning to their nesting sites.
- Vocal communication of penguins.
Penguins can produce loud, noisy or shrilling sounds. It depends upon the reason why they are producing sound. There are three main kinds of penguin calls.
- The first type of call is contact call which assists in the recognition of colony members. So it is used by the penguins to identify each other. The contact call of emperor and king penguins can be heard one kilometer (0.6 mi.) away. So by using this call, penguins can identify their mates and chicks. When parents have to feed the particular chick, they recognize the distinct individual call of their own young and ignore the cries of others. This is particularly important where the young are kept together in a nursery. If a penguin gets isolated from its group members, it produces contact calls.
- Another type of call is display call. It is the most complex of all calls. Partners of the same colony use this type of call. This call is used for territorial, physical, sexual, personal and individual recognition. In order to show the possession of particular nesting sites, the male penguins trumpet and swing their heads. Paired penguins perform vocalize mutually to communicate with each other and also with the other members of their colony. These displays continue throughout the breeding season. To show an aggressive stance, during confrontations, penguins produce specific display calla named as agonistic calls. Penguins have also developed several physical displays that help to deliver a defensive, submissive or aggressive stance to their colony members. So it means penguins also use physical movements to convey their messages, instead of using sign language. To defend their territory, they wave their flippers or heads. To show submission, they bow their heads and to express mutual submission and bonding, mating pairs dip their heads towards each other’s feet or towards the nest. A display call is also used to defend against intruders.
- The third type of call is a threat call. When penguins find any kind of predator in their vicinity, they start producing specific sounds to warn other members. So the threat call is entirely used to emit a warning or any kind of danger. This kind of call is a bit louder. This is the simplest call which primarily focuses on the protection of penguins. This threat call is also used to warn them against predators that might be looking for penguin’s egg or penguin’s chicks.
- Do penguins sing to each other?
Newly paired penguins touch each other’s necks and slap each other’s faces to show their bonding. They sing to each other and in this way, they become able to recognize each other’s voices and calls because they have to mate year after year. They sing a special kind of song called ecstatic display song during the mating season. This song is sung individually by the penguins. Similarly, there is another song sung by nesting partners mutually, this song is called mutual display song. Sophisticated mechanisms are present in the singing activities of penguins. Some penguins sing a lot, so they are referred to as jackass penguins. Penguins basically advertise their newly formed companionship by singing songs that may seem attractive to them.
- Do penguins use their sense of smell to communicate?
Researchers at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Zoological Society found that penguins have a remarkable ability to identify their mates using the sense of smell. They can also detect their children as well as their relatives. When penguins want to reinforce a monogamous relationship, they use their sense of smell to recognize their previous mates. After feeding at sea, this sense of smell is greatly helpful in finding their particular nesting sites.
- How does penguins’ anatomy help them to communicate?
As we know that all the birds have syrinx as their vocal organ. This vocal organ is unique to birds. It is located at the base of the trachea which further divides into bronchi (tubes that connect the trachea with the lungs). Vibrations of some or all of the walls of syrinx caused by airflow help the penguins in producing sound. How do emperor penguins produce a two-voiced call? In emperor penguins, the syrinx splits into a fork near the place where the trachea is connected to the lungs. So in this way, emperor penguins make the use of two branches of the syrinx and produce two different frequencies at the same time, thus creating a beating amplitude pattern.
- Do penguins fight? How do they communicate to show anger?
Yes, penguins do fight among themselves. There are many reasons for fighting. They fight for choosing the best mates, for best nesting sites, for precious stones, pebbles and sticks. To threaten the other penguin, a fighter penguin produces a braying sound, pinches the other by its beak, hits very fastly using its flippers. This fighting behavior is most commonly observed in Adelie Penguins. They never allow other penguins to come even near to their nesting sites. They are also very aggressive towards other’s chicks. Sometimes, chicks are abandoned because of the death of their parents or the unavailability of food. Such chicks are found wandering here and there and no one is there to look after them. If these soft chicks reach near the nests of Adelie penguins, they don’t show kind behavior. Adelie penguins are also very aggressive when they see any predators in their vicinity. They defend as much as they can. Emperor penguins are larger in size, so they have very little fear of predators. They only show an aggressive stance when females compete for a male. But emperor penguins easily resolve this issue using good communication. The penguins use calls similar to threatening calls to express anger.
Some interesting facts related to the communication of penguins.
Now I will tell you some interesting facts about penguins.
- Gentoo penguins seem very peaceful but their voices are very irritating and noisy. Their courtship calls are very intense and might disturb you to a great extent. They keep on issuing shrilling sound for several consecutive days.
- African penguins produce a call with various accents. It means they have a single call but they vocalize it in different ways.
- King and emperor penguins produce the two-sound system. They can easily call their chicks in the middle of populated and noisy colonies because they can produce sounds of two different frequencies at the same time.
So this was all about how penguins communicate.