Usually, I try to tell stories about creatures that live here on these islands (or in the seas around them), but not today. This story is about birds who live far away, on the shores of Antarctica, where it is distinctly colder than it is here.
It’s about penguins.
You’ve heard of penguins, I’m sure. They swim rather than fly, and they’re always well dressed. What other creature wears a tuxedo twenty-four hours a day?
Well, this penguin was a young one, and he knew what a “Proper Dinner” consisted of.
He knew that a Proper Dinner was important. After all, he was always dressed for it.
So. Here’s how a Proper Dinner goes. Mom or Dad appears at the nest after hunting for fish out in the water. And you, as the young one, you stand straight up and tall. You throw your head back and open your mouth, and Mom or Dad sticks their beak in your mouth and…
How do I put this?
Well, let’s just say that food that was in their stomach goes into yours.
If that sounds gross to you, it does to me, too. Which makes us people, not penguins.
In any case, that was a Proper Dinner for this young penguin, and after all, he was always dressed for it.
One day, though, when Mom appeared, she was carrying an actual fish in her beak. And when Sister put back her head and opened her mouth, mother put the fish in.
Sister swallowed it right down with every sign that she enjoyed it, but Brother knew that it wasn’t a Proper Dinner.
Sure enough, Dad appeared shortly afterward, and like Mom, he had a fish in his beak. Brother looked at it, and it wasn’t a Proper Dinner.
So he didn’t stand up straight. And he didn’t put his head back. And he didn’t open his mouth.
If he could have, he would have folded his wings across his chest, but he couldn’t, because penguin wings don’t do that.
Sister got the fish. And Brother had to wait until Dad went away, caught some more fish, and returned to feed Brother what he’d already eaten, so that he’d have a Proper Dinner.
This went on for two days, which is an endless amount of time when you’re a young penguin. Mom and Dad brought fish, and Brother wouldn’t eat them, and he’d wait, hungry, until they returned with a Proper Dinner.
Finally, Mom and Dad had had enough. They wouldn’t do this any more.
Has that ever happened to you? That Mom and Dad wouldn’t do something for you any more?
You, too, eh?
So they stood there and eyed him with the fish dangling from their beaks. And he stared back with a gaze that slowly fell away in the face of their united disapproval. He slowly raised his beak, and opened his mouth. A little. Then a little more. Until Mom tucked the fish onto his tongue.
To his utter astonishment, he liked it.
“Well,” he decided. “I guess there’s more than one way to have a Proper Dinner.”
“And after all, I’m dressed for it, whatever comes.”
Photo credit: By Liam Quinn from Canada – Adélie Penguin regurgitates krill for its chick, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24444946