I thought it was about time to introduce some of the residents of Bird Island in a bit more detail, starting with the Macaroni penguins. We have three colonies of these on the island: Big Mac, which has around 40,000 breeding pairs at the peak of the season, Middle Mac which is a bit smaller, and Little Mac which only has a handful of birds. The penguins come ashore to breed in the Austral summer, spending the rest of the year cruising around in the ocean – some tagged macs have covered over 6000 miles in one season, even on occasions finding their way as far north as the Indian Ocean.

Like all the penguins I’ve met, they give every impression of having a room-temperature IQ, partly due to their general awkwardness on land. Having said this, they are pretty good climbers, using clawed feet and beaks to propel themselves up steep, rocky nesting sites. Their defining features are the little yellow quiff, their little red piggy eyes, and the fact that they look like squat, overweight, little old men (if you don’t believe me, watch Happy Feet).

I visited the various Mac colonies whilst on a long tour of the island, to check for evidence of rats. You’ll note from the photos that it was a rare day of stunning weather to be out and about – the default conditions here are mist and drizzle! Bird Island’s general remoteness and lack of visitors means that it has remained rat-free (unlike mainland South Georgia, where the South Georgia Heritage Trust are currently mid-way through a massive project to cull the entire rat population). The introduction of rats here would devastate the birdlife, so one of my regular jobs is to check various baited boxes for any evidence of unwelcome visitors. We use tempting rat food for bait, rather than poison, as it’s not unusual for some of the smaller birds to use the boxes as a comfortable nest site. However, at the first sign of a rat nibbling the bait, a major anti-rat plan would spring into action.

little mac

Some of the residents of Little Mac. They have only recently come ashore to breed, so are busy fighting over nesting sites and stealing choice pebbles from one another.

Big mac

Big mac. This is what 40,000 breeding pairs of penguins looks like, with a noise and smell that knocks you sideways. The colony is at the western end of Bird Island, and that is snow-capped Willis Island on the horizon.

Big mac

A close up of part of Big Mac. Imagine trying to find your nest amongst that lot.

little mac

Little Mac again, a des res for the shyer bird who doesn’t like big crowds.

Macaroni penguin

Macaroni penguins. Hours of fun to watch.

rat box

A visiting boy-band member, here to check the boxes for any evidence of rats.

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