Dec 10

As the festive season gets into full swing, we’re sure a few of you will be warming up your vocal cords in preparation for a bit of carolling action. To help get you in the mood for some musical mayhem, we’ve had a root through the ARKive collection to find some of the species that might make good (or bad!) additions to any party of vibrant vocalists.

Delightful duet – Western hoolock gibbon

The call of the western hoolock gibbon is as energetic as the species itself, which can swing gracefully through the trees of its forest home at speeds of up to 56km/hour. The impressive vocal gymnastics of this species can be heard over great distances, so this primate would be a great asset to any raucous carolling choir!

Western hoolock gibbon image

Hooved honkers – Plains zebra

If you listen carefully, you can hear the first few notes of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the call of this plains zebra! This braying bark is a key method of communication for zebras, and is used alongside body movements and facial expressions. Let’s hope these guys have good memories for music and lyrics, as they might have some difficulty holding a carol book!

Plains zebra image

Jolly jingles – Sidewinder

Despite being the stoutest of all the rattlesnake species, this reptilian rattler can grow up to 80cm in length. It is found in south-western U.S.A and north-western Mexico, where it ambushes small lizard and rodent prey from the cover of isolated shrubs. The sidewinder could provide some interesting percussion accompaniment to a group of carollers, though I’m not sure how close you would want to get to one of these venomous critters!

Sidewinder image

Booming beat – Kakapo

If you feel like you need a little something extra on your carolling outing, why not invite the kakapo along to create a resonant boom to back up all your favourite festive tunes? We can’t guarantee he’ll be able to keep in time, but at least it’ll get the choral company noticed! This booming noise is made by male kakapos to attract a mate, and can be heard up to five kilometres away.

Kakapo image

Quacking canid – Dhole

You know that feeling of surprise when you hear somebody sing, and their voice doesn’t sound at all like you’d expect it to? That’s how we felt when we came across this carolling audition tape for the dhole! This Asian species can produce a wide range of vocalisations, including a distinctive whistle which is used to reassemble pack members in its thick forest habitat.

Dhole image

Warbling wonder – Blackbird

Many of you avid music-lovers will recognise the beautiful song of the blackbird, and would be happy to have this musical avian in your carolling group. This species produces a range of vocalisations, including a loud alarm call which has been described as ‘pli-pli-pli’.

Blackbird image

Honking harmonies – Emperor penguin

Emperor penguin colonies may be very noisy and somewhat tuneless places to be, but also extremely cold ones! This species can survive in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees C, and withstand windspeeds of up to 200km/hour. Emperor penguins might not win any prizes as far as pleasant-sounding vocals go, but this species certainly deserves top marks for its parental care. While the female heads seawards to feed after laying her egg, the male will stay put without feeding for four months, in constant darkness, to incubate the egg. Now that’s dedication!

Emperor penguin image

Choral creatures – Bright-eyed frog (Boophis albilabris)

Does anyone else think that the bright-eyed frog has a call that sounds strangely like squeaky rubber?! This large tree frog, whose scientific species name albilabris means ‘white-lipped’ (can you guess why?!), can grow up to 81mm in length. The bright-eyed frog is endemic to Madagascar, where it can be found in moist rainforests.

Bright-eyed frog image

Squawky solo – Galapagos penguin

This feathered fellow certainly seems to be putting a lot of effort into its call, but if this were an audition, I’m not so sure the Galapagos penguin would be offered a solo! This species is the most northerly of all penguins, and sadly, as of 2007, there were just 1,000 individuals left in the world.

Galapagos penguin image

Cacophonous canines – Grey wolf

The grey wolf is a highly social and intelligent species of canid, living in packs of between 5 and 12 individuals. As well as scent-marking, the grey wolf uses howling as a way of advertising territorial boundaries. It is an effective way of avoiding encounters with other packs, which can lead to fatal battles. Sadly, I don’t think this species would make an ideal choir member, as the individuals don’t seem to be able to howl in tune!

Grey wolf image

Ho, ho, ho! – Barasingha

This barasingha, a threatened deer species found only in India and Nepal, appears to be doing his best Santa Claus impression!

Barasingha image

Ho, ho, ho! And a happy holiday season to you all!


Jun 14

As their name suggests, seabirds are birds which live in a marine environment. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all show a range of adaptations to their ocean-going lifestyle.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, which took place on 8th June, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the fascinating birds which make the oceans their home.

Colourful clowns

Photo of puffin pair greeting

Like many seabirds, the colourful puffin spends most of its life at sea, only returning to land once a year to breed. This much-loved, rather comical bird only develops the distinctive colours on its beak during the breeding season. It typically nests in large colonies on offshore islands or on inaccessible cliffs with grass slopes, excavating a burrow into which it lays a single egg.

Masters of the air

Photo of male great frigatebird displaying

With the largest wing area to body mass ratio of any bird, the great frigatebird is wonderfully adapted to an aerial lifestyle, and is able to soar almost effortlessly above the ocean for long periods. This species lacks waterproof plumage and doesn’t spend time on water, instead taking food from just above or on the surface of the sea, or pirating it from other birds in the air. The male great frigatebird has a distinctive appearance, with a conspicuous red pouch on the throat which is inflated like a balloon during courtship.

Supreme opportunists

Photo of herring gull yawning whilst standing on cliff edge

The quintessential ‘seagull’, the herring gull is one of the most familiar seabirds in the northern hemisphere. Like many gulls, this species is a supreme opportunist and scavenger, able to take advantage of almost any available food source. While at sea, herring gulls quickly gather at areas of high food abundance, including around boats. This versatile species can also live inland, and even commonly nests on buildings in cities.

Dramatic divers

Photo of gannet preening partner

With a wingspan of nearly two metres, the gannet is the largest seabird in the North Atlantic. This species is known for its breathtaking dives, in which it plunges into the ocean, often from considerable heights, before catching its fish prey underwater. The gannet shows a number of adaptations that allow it to survive hitting the water at speed, including nostrils which open inside the mouth to prevent water entering them, and air sacs in the face and chest to cushion the impact.

Ocean wanderers

Photo of wandering albatross display

The wandering albatross has the largest recorded wingspan of any living bird, reaching a massive 3.5 metres across. These impressive wings allow it to glide effortlessly across the ocean, and the wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, often travelling huge distances around the southern oceans. This long-lived species does not start breeding until it reaches 9 to 11 years old, and pairs mate for life.

Terrific tubenoses

Photo of European storm-petrel feeding

A tiny seabird barely larger than a sparrow, the European storm-petrel is superbly adapted to life at sea. Like other storm-petrels, it belongs to a group of seabirds known as ‘tubenoses’ due to their conspicuous, tubular nasal passages, which give them an excellent sense of smell and help them to find patchily distributed prey at sea. Its small, hooked beak enables it to grasp its slippery prey, while a gland in the nose is used to expel excess salt from drinking seawater. The European storm-petrel mainly hunts on the wing, dipping its beak into the water while pattering its feet along the surface.

Cliff-nesting auks

Photo of guillemots at nest on rocky ledge with egg

The guillemot is a member of the auk family, a group of seabirds which have been described as the northern hemisphere equivalent of penguins. Unlike penguins, these birds can fly, as well as being excellent swimmers and divers. The guillemot nests on cliff ledges, and its eggs are conical in shape to prevent them rolling off. When the young guillemot leaves the nest it has to take a risky plunge into the sea below, accompanied by the adult male, who will then continue to care for it at sea.

Icons of the Antarctic

Photo of Adélie penguins diving off iceberg

Penguins are among the most popular of all seabirds. Found only in the southern hemisphere, these flightless birds are often associated with the Antarctic, although some species actually live as far north as the equator. With wings developed into flippers and legs set far back on the body, penguins are excellent swimmers, and their waterproof, scale-like feathers help to keep them warm and dry. A true Antarctic species, the Adélie penguin is found around the Antarctic continent year-round, and is capable of deep dives to find the krill and fish on which it feeds.

Dancing fools

Photo of blue-footed booby pair in courtship display

A large, comical-looking seabird, the blue-footed booby is instantly recognisable thanks to its bright blue feet. The name ‘booby’ comes from the Spanish word for ‘fool’ or ‘dunce’, referring to the clumsiness of these birds on land. The blue-footed booby usually nests in large colonies and mates for life, with pairs performing an elaborate courtship display which involves alternately lifting each blue foot, pointing the head and beak skywards and spreading the wings.

Super seaducks

Photo of male common eider swimming

Perhaps surprisingly, some duck species spend most of their lives at sea. The largest duck in the northern hemisphere, the common eider breeds on offshore islands, rocky coasts, or pools in tundra, but outside of the breeding season it is found in shallow marine habitats. Traditionally, the down feathers of this species have been used to fill pillows and quilts. The common eider dives underwater to catch crustaceans and molluscs, particularly mussels, which it swallows whole, crushing the shells in its gizzard.


Read more about World Oceans Day on the ARKive World Oceans Day blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

View more photos and videos of seabirds on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite seabird? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


Apr 25

Every year, April 25th marks World Penguin Day, a chance to celebrate these popular and charismatic birds. These iconic flightless birds range from the large, well-known emperor penguin to the tiny, aptly name little penguin, and all are well adapted to the environments in which they live.

Photo of king penguins allopreening

King penguins

To celebrate World Penguin Day, here at ARKive we thought we would celebrate all things penguiny by taking a closer look at these fascinating birds.

Icon of the Antarctic

Photo of emperor penguins huddle together during blizzard

Emperor penguins huddling together during a blizzard

At over one metre tall, the emperor penguin is the largest penguin species. One of the most iconic animals of the Antarctic, this hardy bird is well adapted to the cold, with a relatively small head, beak and flippers to reduce heat loss, and layers of tightly packed, scale-like feathers to keep it warm and dry. Like other penguins, it also has a thick layer of fat that acts as insulation and an energy store. Male emperor penguins incubate a single egg throughout the harsh Antarctic winter, when temperatures can drop to an incredible minus 60ºC. The males balance the eggs on their feet, and huddle together to keep warm.

Coping in the heat

Photo of African penguin colony on beach

African penguins on beach

Although typically associated with cold environments, not all penguins live in the Antarctic. The African penguin breeds in southern Africa, where it has to deal with potentially high temperatures. To protect its nest against the heat, the African penguin often nests in burrows or in the shade of boulders or bushes. The most northerly penguin species is the Galapagos penguin, which is found near the equator.

Super swimmers

Photo of emperor penguins descending to feed

Emperor penguins swimming underwater

All penguins are superb swimmers, with streamlined bodies and flipper-like wings which give them great speed underwater. Penguins can cope with long, deep dives, and some species spend as much as 75% of their lives at sea. Compared to flying birds, which have light, hollow bones, penguins have heavy, solid bones which aid diving. Legs set far back on the body help penguins to steer underwater, but mean they walk clumsily on land.

Well-dressed water birds

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

Northern rockhopper penguins

Penguins are characterised by their distinctive black and white colour patterns. Known as ‘countershading’, this pattern provides camouflage underwater, helping the penguin to avoid detection by predators and prey. When seen from above, the penguin’s dark back blends in with the dark ocean depths, and when seen from below its white belly blends in with the light from the sky. Penguin species are most easily told apart by the distinctive patterns on their head and neck, and some species even sport quite colourful hairdos!

Sociable breeders

Photo of large king penguin breeding colony

Large breeding colony of king penguins

Penguins often form huge breeding colonies that may number hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs, and the stains left by the droppings of so many birds can sometimes be seen from space. Penguins usually form monogamous pairs in each breeding season. Nesting sites vary between species, and can include sea ice, rock, beaches, or even coastal forest, in the case of the Fiordland crested penguin.

Fishy diet

Photo of Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Galapagos penguins hunting fish

Penguins use their great swimming ability and speed underwater to catch a variety of fish, squid and crustaceans, including the shrimp-like krill. Amazingly, penguins are able to drink seawater when at sea, as they possess glands which filter excess salt from the blood, excreting it from the nasal passages in a concentrated salty fluid.

Fabulous feet

Close-up photo of adult gentoo penguin feet

Close-up of gentoo penguin feet

Penguins have a series of adaptations which help to reduce heat loss through the feet and prevent the feet from freezing when the bird is standing on ice. As warm blood enters the legs, it flows past cold blood returning from the feet. In this way, the blood entering the feet is cooled, reducing heat loss, and the blood returning to the body is warmed again. Penguins can also reduce blood flow to their feet in freezing conditions, and may tip back on their heels to minimise the area of skin in contact with the ice.

Penguin predators

Leopard seal attacking an Adélie penguin chick

Adélie penguin chick being attacked by leopard seal

On land, penguins generally have few predators, although birds such as the southern skua may take their eggs and chicks, and adult penguins may also be attacked by the northern giant petrel. In the sea, penguins may be attacked by leopard seals and orcas.

Bad feather day

Photo of adult northern rockhopper penguin moulting

Moulting northern rockhopper penguin

Like most birds, penguins moult once a year, replacing worn and damaged feathers to keep their plumage in top condition. However, unlike most other birds, which moult a few feathers at a time, penguins moult all their feathers in one go, as missing just one or two would affect their waterproofing and put them at risk from the cold. Before its annual moult a penguin puts on weight, building up fat reserves which allow it to stay out of the water while it waits for its new feathers to grow. During this time it can take on a decidedly scruffy appearance!

Really quite cool

Photo of gentoo penguin scratching

Gentoo penguin scratching

Penguins are hugely popular birds and commonly appear in films, TV programmes and popular culture, being much loved for their comical appearance and upright, almost human-like walk. They are also hardy survivors, occurring in some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet.

Unfortunately, humans have also had negative impacts on penguin populations, through pollution, overfishing, coastal development and the effects of climate change. The International Penguin Conservation Working Group is helping to promote penguin conservation and to draw attention to the threats facing penguins, and with various research programmes also underway there is hope that these iconic birds can be protected into the future.

Why not join in the World Penguin Day celebrations yourself? You can explore more penguin photos, videos and factfiles on ARKive, or make a penguin mask with our Penguin Diversity education module.

Or, get in touch and let us know which species of penguin is your favourite and why!

Mar 6

As you may be aware, not only is this week the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES, it is also Climate Week in the UK. The biggest climate change campaign in Britain, Climate Week aims to inspire us to create a more sustainable future through a range of activities.

Climate week logo

Throughout the course of the week schools, businesses, charities, councils and many other organisations will run over 3,000 events attended by around half a million people interested in finding out more about the future of climate change and what we can do to safeguard against its impacts.

With such a wide range of events on offer there is bound to be something for everyone so do try to attend if you can. Not only will it be informative, by the sounds of it you will also have a lot of fun. Activities include test driving electric vehicles, growing your own food in community allotments, a green building show with a Climate Week Pledge Wall, swapping clothes, books, toys and DVDs, developing a Community Energy Plan and even an event at Manchester United hosted by none other than England football coach Gary Neville. There are too many to list but more information can be found on the Climate Week website.

Polar bear jumping between ice floes

Polar bears are dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover

If you are unable to attend any events near you (or, alas there are no events in your proximity), we’ll do our best in this blog to give you an overview of climate change and why it is so important for us to safeguard our wildlife and environment against it.

About climate change

Without wanting to be too accusatory, there is no doubt that climate change is caused by man-made impacts on our planet. You may have heard it referred to as ‘global warming’, due to the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature that is occurring. Both terms are correct, however they actually refer to different phenomena. Climate change refers to the changes in climate which arise as a result of the increasing global temperature. These can include changes in precipitation patterns, increased incidence of drought, heat waves and other extreme weather conditions. In essence, global warming does not mean that we will all have increasingly warmer weather; the planet’s steadily rising temperature will be associated with changes across the world in climate pattern, and more extreme and unpredictable weather. Some places may well become hotter, but some will become colder, and others wetter or drier.

Atlantic krill

Antarctic krill die due to ocean acidification

These changes in climate may not sound like much, but they are creating huge problems on a global scale for both wildlife and people. The severity of storms and floods are increasing, and ruthless droughts are on the rise. The acidity of our seas is rising, affecting species such as coral and krill and destroying marine food chains that ultimately maintain the balance of life in the oceans. The lack of arctic ice in the summer creates a dire situation for polar bears as well as compounding global warming because the ice would usually serve to deflect sunlight away from the planet. The increased heat absorbed due to the absence of this natural deflection in turn causes permafrost to thaw, releasing trapped methane gas. This gas, along with carbon dioxide released by the process of deforestation and the warming oceans both serve to increase what is known as the greenhouse effect; some gases trap and retain the sun’s heat giving rise to this phenomenon.

Hawksbill turtle

Rising sea levels could wash away hawksbill turtle nests and decrease nesting habitat

As we can see, this process is not pretty, and we’ve only scratched at the surface of what is happening in this blog. Mass extinction of wildlife is predicted in the near future, including species such as polar bears and emperor penguins that will lose their habitat to melting ice and rising sea levels. Colourful corals such as the Acanthastrea coral will die as a result of ocean acidification. Also affected are species that live and breed on low-lying remote islands, for example marine turtles like the giant South American, hawksbill and leatherback turtles. There are too many to name here, but you can check out more species that will be affected by climate change on ARKive.

Staghorn coral

Climate change is already having measurable impacts on coral reefs worldwide


So, even if it’s just spreading the word on climate change, will you do your bit this Climate Week?

Find out more about climate change, the species it affects and what we can do to mitigate the effects on our Climate Change topic page.

Download Climate Week resources from the Climate Week website.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

Jan 10

Invasive reindeer are to be eradicated from South Georgia in an attempt to save the unique environment of this sub-Antarctic island.

Reindeer are normally found in the Arctic

As well as being home to 3,000 reindeer, the island of South Georgia has many endemic species of fauna and flora that evolved in the absence of grazing pressures. These species are now struggling to survive in the reindeer’s overbearing presence, and the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has announced plans to eradicate the population in an effort to save the island’s unique species.

Habitat destruction

Reindeer were first introduced to South Georgia by the Norwegians in the 1900s to provide fresh meat on whaling missions in Antarctica. The population was originally managed by regular hunting, but when whaling stations were shut down in the 1960s, all hunting ceased.

Since then, the reindeer population has increased dramatically to a point where the island’s flora and fauna can no longer cope. Reindeer trample the indigenous plants, threaten king penguins and other local birds by destroying their nests and habitat, and cause substantial soil erosion.

King penguins are just one of the species threatened by the presence of reindeer

The reindeer herd is currently restricted by glaciers to the only suitable grazing habitat, which is also the most biologically productive. However, the impending threat of climate change and glacial recession will serve to increase the damage caused by opening up access to the rest of the island.

The government has decided to eradicate the reindeer population on South Georgia on the grounds of responsible environmental management practices.

Reindeer are grazing on the most biologically productive parts of the island

Island restoration

The reindeer cull will be led by the Norwegian Sami herdsmen whose expertise will ensure the programme goes smoothly, and it is estimated that it will take place over two summers. Meat from the cull will not go to waste and will be sold on the Falkland Islands, since South Georgia has no permanent resident population.

The Sami herdsmen are experienced in handling reindeer

Scientists hope that this, alongside a rat eradication programme currently in progress, will restore the island of South Georgia by allowing native plant species and bird populations to recover. Two native bird species which scientists hope will benefit from the removal of rats and reindeer are the South Georgia pipit and the South Georgia pintail, a subspecies of the yellow-billed pintail.

The endemic South Georgia pintail will benefit from the eradication of rats and reindeer


Read more on this story at BBC News – South Georgia prepares to cull its invasive reindeer.

Find out more about the invasive reindeer population from the IUCN Species Survival Commission Invasive Species Specialist Group newsletter.

View photos and videos of reindeer on ARKive.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author


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