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Edinburgh Zoo’s gentoo penguins have started building ‘sex nests’ to lure in lovers ahead of mating season

Whether it’s splashing out on flowers or cooking up a delicious meal, everyone has their own way of impressing a potential partner. 

But for these house-proud penguins, it’s all about having the swankiest bachelor pad. 

As mating season approaches, Edinburgh Zoo’s gentoo penguins are busy getting their nests in proper order.

Using nest rings and a collection of pebbles provided by the zookeepers, male penguins have been carefully choosing the perfect stones to lure in a lover.

But there might be trouble in paradise, as penguins frequently scrap to get hold of the best stones for themselves. 

At Edinburgh Zoo male gentoo penguins are busy gathering up their favourite pebbles to try and win over their ideal partner 

Gentoo Penguins are originally from Antarctica so can only build their nests from pebbles. This means that choosing the right pebble is key to finding a mate

Edinburgh Zoo is home to the largest outdoor penguin pool in Europe with three different species and more than 100 individuals.

A large number of those are gentoo penguins – a small species originally from the Antarctic. 

In the wild, these characterful birds make their nests on the rocky shores where they gather up the smooth pebbles to build nests. 

And, just like humans, these penguins also propose by giving each other a nice shiny rock.

Male penguins will select the smoothest pebble from their nest to present to their potential partner.

If she thinks the offering is good enough then the female will take the stone and place it on the nest. 

Male penguins will present females with the best pebble from their nest as a form of proposal 

If the female penguin accepts the pebble she will take it and place it on the next. The pair will then work together to build a nest, mate, and raise two eggs 

Gentoo penguins

Scientific name: Pygoscelis papua

Diet: Fish, crustaceans, and squid

Distribution: Antarctic Islands, Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands 

Size: 2.5 feet

Weight: 12lbs (5.4kg)

Conservation status: Least Concern

The couple will then work together to build up a nest, where the female will lay two spherical eggs.

Gentoo penguins are devoted parents and often form long-lasting bonds.

During the 33 to 35-day incubation period, the parents will take it in turns to keep the egg warm while the other forages for food. 

This year, the first eggs should be laid in April and we should see the first chicks beginning to hatch in May.

After about three to four months, these chicks will be old enough to leave the nest and will join a large crèche of other chicks where they learn to swim and feed. 

This year, to help the penguins find their perfect partner, Edinburgh Zoo has provided the penguins with a collection of painted pebbles.

The rocks were painted by children being supported by Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.

This year, Edinburgh Zoo provided the penguins with colourful rocks painted by children at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People 

Pebbles are very important to gentoo penguins because, in the wild, they would help keep their eggs elevated off the ice and snow 

The penguins carefully choose pebbles that would allow snow and water to drain away, ensuring that the eggs stays warm and dry throughout their month-long incubation period

But, these pebbles are so important to the males’ chances of finding a mate that it does sometimes lead to squabbles. 

On the frozen coastlines of Antarctica, materials for building nests can be hard to find.

Some penguins will even dive down to the sea bed to find pebbles, meaning it can take days if not weeks to build the right nest.

Faced with this daunting task, some penguins will turn to a life of crime and will try to steal the best pebbles from their rivals’ nests.

Criminal couples may even try to hijack another pair’s nest altogether if it is left unattended for too long.   

Some penguins find it easier to turn to a life of crime, stealing the best pebbles from their rival’s nests in order to build up their own 

Competition for the best pebbles is fierce and often leads to neighbourly squabbles among the zoo’s residents 

But this isn’t just a matter of aesthetic choices or neighbourly jealousy.

Without twigs, branches, or leaves to build their nests from, pebbles are all the gentoo penguins can use to keep their eggs safe.

A solid base of pebbles keeps the egg elevated above the freezing ground and snow, ensuring it can survive incubation.

Choosing the right pebbles means that water or snow can drain away from the nest rather than building up on the surface.

This means that building a good sturdy nest can be the difference between successfully raising a chick or the egg failing to hatch. 

So, even though the eggs aren’t likely to freeze in the Scottish spring, squabbles and fights are very common among the zoo’s residents as breeding season approaches. 

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