If you could talk to African penguins, you’d know when they’re hungry, lonely, pissed off, and ready to party hardy, according to researches at the University of Turin, Italy, who have decoded the chit-chat among birds in captivity and discovered six distinctive calls.
Young “jackass” penguins, as they are called, whine and beg when they’re hungry. Nesting chicks use “begging peeps” when they want adults to feed them, according to the study. And juveniles out of the nest use a “begging moan” to let grownups know they want food, now.
Adult penguins rely on four distinct calls to make their needs known.
- Contact Calls – Produced by lonely penguins isolated from the colony or their partner.
- Agonistic Calls – Uttered during a fight or when a penguin tries to intrude on an occupied nest.
- Ecstatic Display Song — Released during mating season as penguins seek mates. The song sounds like donkey grunts, the reason the penguins have the “jackass” moniker.
- Mutual Display Song — A duet sung by nesting partners.
Study researchers made video and audio recordings of a colony of 48 captive African penguins at the ZOOM Torino zoo in Cumiana, Italy. Study results were published recently in the journal PLOS One.
“Penguins have less sophisticated vocal mechanisms compared to song birds,” study leader Dr. Livio Favaro told The Guardian, “but they have very sophisticated mechanisms to encode information in songs.”